The Klamath Basin has long been a flashpoint for water issues as agricultural, fishing, tribal and endangered species interests compete for an over-allocated resource. Water disputes in the basin have been notoriously intractable but at no time was this more apparent than the crises of 2001 and 2002. Drought led the federal government to shut off irrigation water to protect endangered fish one year, leaving thousands of acres of crops to wither in the fields. The following year very low water conditions continued, and there was the largest single salmon and steelhead kill in U.S. history; an estimated 68,000 fish rolled up dead in the low and warm water downstream.
In the midst of crisis, two forward-thinking ranchers dreamed of better water balance in the basin their families called home. These landowners began reaching out to neighboring ranches and assembling tools for water conservation, tools that could be used on thousands of acres of family farms to provide additional water to the Klamath system. Early successes and ongoing interest led to the formation of the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust (KBRT) in 2002, a nonprofit organization with the mission of returning more and better water to Upper Klamath Lake. And return water, they did. Facilitating unique and innovative partnerships between private landowners and public agencies, KBRT’s contribution to water balance in the basin has been significant.
KBRT’s 10th anniversary comes on the heels of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), a remarkable pact calling for the largest dam removal project in the world and a water-sharing agreement meant to end one of the most bitter resource struggles in our history. Years of negotiations between federal officials, tribes, irrigators, power corporations and conservation groups will lead to restoration that supports and enhances fishing, farming, and ranching…the backbone of Klamath’s economy.
KBRT is set to usher in its next 10 years of conservation and restoration to move the Klamath towards hydrologic balance. We’ll assist landowners in participation in Federal and State programs that encourage sustainable land and water management, providing more and better water to Upper Klamath Lake…
…all the while maintaining viable agricultural operations and a ranching lifestyle and economy.