In the summer of 2001, the Bureau of Reclamation cut off water deliveries from the Klamath Project in Southeastern Oregon to 1400 farmers who relied on the water to irrigate their crops. Irrigation deliveries were cut-off because of a sustained drought. The cut-off was necessary, according to the Bureau, to protect three species of fish that had been listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act—two species of suckers in the Upper Klamath Basin and Coho salmon in the Lower Basin. The suckers were culturally and economically important to the Klamath Tribes in the Upper Basin and the salmon were of similar import to the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa tribes in the Lower Basin. The fish had been listed as “Endangered” in large part because of the efforts of the tribes.
Irrigators and their supporters responded to the Bureau’s action with protests and random acts of violence. Irrigation headgates were forcibly opened. Federal and tribal property was vandalized. The protests morphed into a cultural war between farmers, tribal members, fisherman and environmentalists. The cultural war is still on-going but has ebbed and flowed over the years. Sometimes it has escalated in response to on-going litigation and political maneuvering. On occasions, it has receded when stakeholders attempted to negotiate an environmentally sustainable response to the Basin’s water management problems.
Dividing the Waters is conducting two webinars on the Klamath. The first webinar will focus on the impact of federal Indian policy on the Klamath Tribes and the tribes’ efforts to perfect and enforce their water rights in order to protect the culturally important suckers. The webinar panelists (in order of their presentations) will be:
Holly Doremus, Professor of Environmental Regulation, University of California at Berkeley and co-author of Water War in the Klamath Basin
Don Gentry, Chairman of the Klamath Tribes
Joe Tenorio, Attorney, Native American Rights Fund, and Council for the Klamath Tribes
A. Dan Tarlock, Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus, Chicago-Kent Law School and co-author of Water War in the Klamath Basin