Environment | Opinion

Josh Saxon: Karuk Tribe backs Klamath restoration agreement

The Klamath River in northern California. Photo U.S. Fish & WIldlife Service, Klamath Basin Ecoregion Collection

Josh Saxon, a council member for the Karuk Tribe of California, explains the need for the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement:
The Klamath Basin has been the home of one of the West’s most infamous water disputes for more than a century. It’s a sad yet classic American tale of colonialists driving native populations from the land, denying opportunities to practice cultural traditions, harvest traditional foods such as salmon, and a string of broken promises. However, when the Klamath’s rural communities hit rock bottom in the drought of 2001-02, enough public attention was focused on the bitter fight between Tribes and irrigators that an opportunity to improve fisheries and forward the right to Tribal self -determination emerged.

In 2001, in the midst of a terrible drought, irrigation water to Bureau of Reclamation’s 225,000 acre Klamath Project was curtailed to protect ESA listed salmon and suckers which serve as cornerstones of local tribal cultures. The consequences where that many irrigators went bankrupt and the community rallied to put pressure on the Bush Administration to make amends. In 2002, with the Basin still in a drought, the Bush Administration decided to deliver water for irrigation resulting in the largest salmon kill in US history.

Everyone’s first reaction to the federal actions during the drought was to litigate. However, the courts did little to resolve the issue. Then the license to operate the Klamath River dams expired. The dams, owned by American business tycoon Warren Buffet’s PacifiCorp, do not divert water to the Bureau’s irrigation project, but have dramatic effects on fish health and water quality. Thus, from the Tribes’ perspective, there were two problems to solve: 1) develop an irrigation plan for the Bureau’s project that left enough water in the river to recover struggling fisheries and 2) remove four large hydroelectric dams.

Get the Story:
Josh Saxon: Klamath River Tribes Support Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (Indian Country Today 6/18)

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