Restoring the Klamath Basin

Restoring the Klamath Basin

Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

The Klamath Basin has been called the Everglades of the West. Six spectacular National Wildlife Refuges dot the basin. Hundreds of thousands of migratory birds rely on basin wetlands. Large numbers of bald eagles forage in the basin in the winter. Historically, the Klamath Basin supported:

  • massive concentrations of waterfowl, quite possibly the largest on the planet
  • the third-largest salmon runs in the Western United States (behind only the Columbia and Sacramento rivers)
  • large populations of unique sucker fish found nowhere else.
Klamath River

Klamath salmon runs support tribal, commercial, and recreational fishing communities.

Unfortunately, large water withdrawals for irrigation, a series of dams on the Klamath River, commercial agriculture on the National Wildlife Refuges, and the loss of basin wetlands have seriously depleted these tremendous resources. Despite the loss of habitat, the Klamath offers perhaps the best opportunity on the West Coast to restore a major river basin.

To restore the Klamath, WaterWatch is working to:

  • bring demand for water back into balance with what nature can provide
  • assure sufficient water for fish, wildlife, wetlands and the National Wildlife Refuges in the basin
  • phase out commercial farming on 22,000 acres of Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges
  • remove PacifiCorp’s four lower hydropower dams on the Klamath River
  • increase legal compliance and agency accountability on water allocation and other management decisions that affect aquatic habitat
Klamath refuge leaselands

Leaselands displace refuge habitat and divert senior refuge water rights to serve agribusiness.

Keep up with the latest developments on the Klamath at our Updates page, and lend your voice in support by signing up for RiverAction!

Current Klamath Issues

Settlement Agreements & Legislation

WaterWatch’s concerns and work with the Klamath River Basin Settlement Agreement (KBRA) and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA).

WaterWatch Guest Opinion: Klamath Basin proposal is bad for taxpayers, Oregonian, December 6, 2014

WaterWatch Op-Ed: Questions persist despite Klamath agreements, Statesman Journal, November 29, 2014

WaterWatch testimony submitted in response to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Water and Power June 3, 2014 hearing on the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2014 (S. 2379).

WaterWatch’s testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources June 20, 2013 hearing on water resources issues in the Klamath River Basin. Watch the hearing here.

National Wildlife Refuges

Snow geese (Chen caerulescens)

Lower Klamath NWR by Brett Cole

WaterWatch, allied groups go to court over lack of Comprehensive Conservation Plans on Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex, April 24, 2014

Opportunities for Improving Water Supply Reliability for Wildlife Habitat on the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges
GOLDINWATER Consulting report, commissioned by WaterWatch

WaterWatch Briefing Paper on the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) Process

WaterWatch comments on Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex Comprehensive Conservation Plan, May 11, 2010

Refuges in Peril: Fish, Wildlife, and the Klamath Water Crisis, 2004
Joint report by WaterWatch, The Wilderness Society, Oregon Wild, and Earthjustice

Dam Removal

Photo by Jim McCarthy courtesy Lighthawk

Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River

WaterWatch Comments on Klamath Facilities Removal Draft Environmental Impact Statement, December 29, 2011

Hydrology, Groundwater, & Water Management

OWRD’s Klamath River Basin Adjudication Webpage

WaterWatch’s comments on draft rules for regulation of groundwater in the Klamath Off-Project area (OAR 690-25-0010), March 2, 2015

Ground-Water Hydrology of the Upper Klamath Basin, Oregon and California, USGS, April 2010

Assessment of the Klamath Project Pilot Water Bank: A Review from a Hydrologic Perspective, USGS, 2005

Klamath Irrigation Pumping Subsidy

Oregon Public Utility Commission Orders, UE 170 & 171:

Transitional Rates Established for Klamath Basin Irrigators, April 6, 2006

Rate Standard Established, November 8, 2005

Motion for Summary Judgment Dismissed, June 6, 2005


Energy Pricing and Irrigated Agriculture in the Upper Klamath Basin, Dr. William Jaeger, Oregon State University, 2004

Fish Kills

Klamath River Basin Hydrologic Conditions Prior to the September 2002 Die-Off of Salmon and Steelhead. USGS (2003)

September 2002 Klamath River Fish-Kill: Final Analysis of Contributing Factors and Impacts. California Department of Fish and Game (July 2004)

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