Water | News

Klamath Tribes Warn Water Demands Rushing Ahead Of Supply

OPB | June 11, 2013 6 a.m.

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With drought conditions worsening in Southern Oregon, the Klamath Tribes for the first time are exercising their claim as the most senior water rights holder in the Klamath Basin.

The tribes delivered what’s known as ‘a call’ Monday to the Oregon Water Resources Department.

That’s when a senior water rights holder gives notice that its water demands are outpacing available flows.

The Klamath Tribes’ water rights were legally recognized this spring as the oldest in the upper basin.

The move could make water unavailable for farmers to irrigate tens of thousands of acres of crops and alfalfa.

“This isn’t something that we’ve taken lightly,” says Don Gentry, Chairman of the Klamath Tribes. 

He says the decision was made to protect treaty resources.   He says before this year the upper basin was subject to decades of unregulated water use that  brought two native sucker fish species close to instinction.

“We have the c’wam, which is commonly called the lost river sucker, and the quapdo. Those are important treaty fishery that we haven’t been able to fish for since 1986.  They eventually ended up on the endangered species list in 1988.”

The Klamath weren’t the only senior water rights holder making calls.

Four irrigation districts as well as the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also filed calls Monday.

Greg Addington leads the Klamath Basin Water Users Association.

“It’s not pretty. Nobody wants to see anybody get harmed or hurt.  But again, it’s not new.  It’s something that happens all over the west, all over Oregon, all the time.  We’re just able to do it here for the first time.”

Scott White, the state’s watermaster for the Klamath Basin, says it’s too early to say just how much water will need to be diverted by the calls or how many junior rights holders along the Upper Klamath River will be affected.

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