Water: the lifeblood of the basin
The Klamath Basin extends from the high desert areas of eastern Oregon to the Pacific Ocean in California. The Basin is home to many species of interest including salmon, endangered suckers and migratory birds. The Basin also supports substantial amounts of agriculture including pasture animals, hay, and row crops, and is home to several Native American Tribes including the Klamath, Modoc, Yurok, Hoopa and Karuk.
The Klamath Basin is a flashpoint for water issues as agriculture, fishing, tribal and endangered species interests are competing for over-allocated water.
The entire Klamath Basin is under constant stress related to water quantity and quality issues, most recently highlighted by the irrigation water shutoffs and fish kills. Almost every year there are struggles between agricultural and fisheries water needs. The key goals of most published recovery plans for the Klamath Basin are to increase instream flows, decrease stream diversions, and improve water quality.
Hydrologic models and the recently signed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement – a plan developed by and for the varied stakeholders in the Basin to balance the Basin’s resources – call for an increased 30,000 acre-feet of water to flow into Upper Klamath Lake each year.
Over the past ten years KBRT, along with partners such as NRCS, USBR, USFWS, and OWEB, has been working with landowners to experiment with running cattle operations under reduced irrigation or complete dryland scenarios. Through this process, landowners on several thousand acres of pasture have learned how to, and become comfortable with, managing their operations with less water. As a result, these landowners decide to permanently transfer their irrigation water rights to instream use, resulting in thousands of acre feet of increased instream flow protected under Oregon water law.
KBRT’s Water Transactions Program partners with landowners to increase instream flows and contribute to the water balance of the Klamath Basin.