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.

Take Action!

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

Ongoing Work

Dam Removal

Photo by Jim McCarthy courtesy Lighthawk

Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River

On the Klamath, a surprising win for river advocates, High Country News, February 5, 2016
Dam removals on the Oregon-California border move forward without expensive and lopsided water deals for irrigators.

WaterWatch Welcomes Advance of Klamath Dam Removal, February 2, 2016
Oregon and California’s elected leaders and the Obama Administration have prioritized the agreement to remove the four lower Klamath River dams. The long delayed restoration effort will no longer be held hostage to a failed water agreement in Congress.

WaterWatch Guest Opinion: A realistic path forward for the Klamath Basin, Bend Bulletin, December 27, 2015

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

National Wildlife Refuges

Snow geese (Chen caerulescens)

Lower Klamath NWR by Brett Cole

Klamath Advocates Go To Court Over Wildlife Mismanagement
, January 18, 2017
WaterWatch and our conservation allies have filed litigation in federal court against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failure to follow federal law in the creation of the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

WaterWatch, allies request emergency water for parched Klamath Basin wetlands, October 13, 2016
Seventeen organizations ask Interior Secretary Jewell to deliver the water that Lower Klamath National National Wildlife Refuge is legally entitled to in order to support fall migration on the Pacific Flyway, and reduce the risk of lethal disease outbreaks.

Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Dept. of Interior’s Audit of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Water User Mitigation Program, October 11, 2016
Report finds $32 million in taxpayer funds intended to boost water supplies for Klamath fish and wildlife instead went primarily to irrigators.

WaterWatch, Portland Audubon, Oregon Wild, and allied groups’ comments on Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex Comprehensive Conservation Plan, August 4, 2016

WaterWatch and Portland Audubon Guest Opinion: Wyden legislation is not what the Klamath refuges need, Oregonian, June 27, 2015

Judge Affirms Ruling Favoring Wildlife on Klamath Refuges, April 16, 2015
In a victory for the Klamath’s migratory waterfowl and other wildlife, a U.S. District Judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to complete the long overdue “Comprehensive Conservation Plan” for Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges. These plans require the USFWS to ensure commercial activities on refuge lands do not harm wildlife.

Opportunities for Improving Water Supply Reliability for Wildlife Habitat on the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges, May 2014
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, April 2004
Joint report by WaterWatch, The Wilderness Society, Oregon Wild, and Earthjustice

Water Settlement Agreements & Legislation

WaterWatch Guest Opinion: Senators put pork before Klamath Basin water, Register-Guard, February 27, 2016

WaterWatch Guest Opinion: It’s Time to Acknowledge KBRA Isn’t a Solution, Two Rivers Tribune, July 28, 2015

WaterWatch Guest Opinion: ‘Make-believe water’ bill would be disaster for Klamath, Register-Guard, July 11, 2015

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.

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

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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