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Klamath County averages more than 30 inches of precipitation a year. The major tributaries of this watershed are the Scott River, Salmon River, and Wooley Creek.

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The Klamath watershed is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, with more than 430 wildlife species, most of which are birds. (Oregon Wild, 2019). The basin contains species like mule deer, river otters, elk, black bear, pronghorn, antelope, and cougar. (Oregon Wild, 2019). As well as species of fish such as the chinook and coho salmon, steelhead trout, and sucker fish, among others. (NOAA Fisheries, n.d.). However, fish populations are declining due to low river levels from increased agricultural activity and dams along the Klamath River. (Plaven, 2018).

Coho salmon populations have been central to the cultural needs of the local tribes as well as an important part of the economy as commercial fishermen rely on California's second-largest salmon producer for their livelihoods.  Low water levels exacerbated by dams and rising temperatures have caused Coho salmon to be listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2014 -2016, untold numbers of coho salmon died from ceratonova shasta outbreaks in the lower Klamath River.  Ceratonova shasta (C. Shasta) is a myxosporean parasite that affects salmon. Klamath Riverkeepers, amongst others, sought a court order compelling the Bureau of Reclamation to manage river flows to protect juvenile Coho salmon. To protect endangered fish species, there have been court rulings in favor of keeping more water for wild fish, but this means less water for irrigators in drought-prone areas. In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order to roll back clean water rules, which exacerbate the already threatened coho salmon numbers. 

In 1906, the federal government built a massive irrigation system consisting of six dams, 185 miles of canals, and 490 miles of lateral ditches to attract agriculture in the Klamath basin. Agriculture boomed, yet over the next 100 hundred years, the demand for water increased as water levels dropped.  Mismanagement of river flow when water levels were naturally low resulted in the parasite outbreak in 2014-2016 in Coho Salmon. Provisions to "America's Water and Infrastructure Act of 2018" didn’t relieve farmers from the impacts of the Endangered Species Act, which devotes more water to support fish populations, but it will provide money to make water systems more efficient, such as building more storage and lining canals to prevent water loss.

Unfortunately, in the Klamath Basin, there are more water rights and needs than there is available water in the river. This is the order of who gets water first: the fish, then farms, and if there is enough water that year, refuges for birds. Often there is no certainty that there will be enough water even if rain levels seem adequate. This system could provide water when surface water runs short. Another provision requires the Bureau of Reclamation to come up with a plan to reduce electricity costs in the basin. Affordable power is tied directly to project efficiency. The more electricity costs, the less farmers may use technology designed to conserve water. Advocates for irrigators said that the federal government, which lured farmers to the basin with the promise of cheap land and plentiful water, should be obligated to do whatever it can to help preserve the farmers and ranchers now endangered in no small part by the impacts of environmental policy instituted by that government.

Depending on the weather and the amount of water in Upper Klamath Lake and the river, federal agencies determine water allocations based on biological opinions that are subject to scientific and legal challenges that have been in favor of adhering to the Endangered Species Act.  Even when projections show an above-average water year for the Klamath basin -there is seldom enough water to go around for farmers, fishermen, and wild fish. Each spring, the Bureau of Reclamation gives water delivery estimates to farmers based on winter precipitation levels. This is to provide water certainty to the irrigators so they can plan their crops, plan their year, and do what they need to do and make a living.  In past years, farmers and cattlemen have experienced a 50% loss in revenue due to not enough water after Tribal senior water rights went towards wild fish revitalization. There have been federal court cases disputing what water rights irrigators have in comparison to Tribal water rights and water diverted to protect endangered fish.  This imbalance creates tense relations amongst opposing groups in the Klamath basin. The issue of irrigation is a historically complex issue as in the early 1900s, farmers were lured to this area in the promise of forever abundant water sources. The infrastructure built over 100 years ago has not proved sustainable. 

In October 2018 Klamath Basin irrigators got $10 million tucked into a $6 billion bill to improve the nation's ports, dams, harbors, and other infrastructure. It wouldn’t correct the problems facing the basin, but it's a start. The Klamath Project provides water to 200,000 acres in the basin. (5)  These disputes bring up the interplay between who decides where the water goes. State, local, or federal?

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