A juvenile chinook salmon from the Klamath River shows signs of parasitic infection and disease.

A juvenile chinook salmon from the Klamath River shows signs of parasitic infection and disease.

Jes Burns, OPB/EarthFix

Congress has adjourned for the year without authorizing the Klamath water agreements. And now the locally-negotiated compromises will expire at the end of the year unless signees decide to extend.  

The three agreements would have provided a degree of peace in the Klamath basin water wars. But they needed congressional approval to move forward.  

Supporting groups will meet Monday, Dec. 28, to decide whether to wait around yet another year for Congress to act. But some parties are already indicating they want out.  

Last September, the Yurok Tribe announced it was withdrawing from the Klamath Agreements. The other tribes have made movement in that direction as well, with the Klamath Tribes recently stating, “the Agreements will die at midnight” on Dec. 31.  

“Mostly I’m just saddened,” says Trisha Hill, a farmer who is represented by the Klamath Water Users Association. “I just thought it was a great template for how we should deal with our environmental issues all over the U.S.”  

She says if the agreements fall apart, tribes and irrigators will likely end up in court fighting over water.  

“That’s our next step. That was what the [Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement], the purpose of it, was to avoid having to go and fight each other out in court,” she said.  

At this point, the only party to the agreements forthrightly advocating to keep them intact is PacifiCorp. The utility owns the four dams that would have been removed under the deals. The agreements significantly limited how much the company would have had to pay for removal. Now PacifiCorp faces the regulatory and financial uncertainty of the dam relicensing process.

Not everyone in the Klamath Basin would mourn a demise of the Klamath agreements. Some tribal members, environmental advocates and irrigators think the compromise deals don’t protect their interests.  

But among the signees, the let-down after more than a decade of negotiations is palpable.  

“I guess I look at it… this has to be resolved eventually. I just hope that when it gets resolved, we don’t have a drastic difference between winners and losers,’ Hill says.  

“That would be, I think, a bad thing for our watershed and our community and the West in general.”