Klamath Basin Settlement Agreements
Congressional Research Service (CRS) | October 21st, 2015
The Klamath River Basin on the California-Oregon border is a focal point for local and national discussions on water allocation and species protection. Previously, water and species management issues have exacerbated competition and generated conflict among several interests—farmers; Indian tribes; commercial and sport fishermen; federal water project and wildlife refuge managers; environmental groups; hydropower facility operators; and state, local, and tribal governments. Drought conditions and a call for water by senior water rights holders in 2013 have again brought these issues to the forefront.
In 2010, the Secretary of the Interior and the governors of Oregon and California, along with multiple interest groups, announced the results of a multiyear negotiation process to resolve long-standing issues in the basin: two interrelated agreements, supported by the federal government and signed by the two states and numerous other parties. These agreements, known as the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA), together aim to provide for water deliveries to irrigators and wildlife refuges, fish habitat restoration, and numerous other related actions.
Generally, the KBRA provides for actions intended to restore Klamath fisheries and for assurances for water deliveries to wildlife refuges and federal project irrigators under certain circumstances, among other things. The KHSA lays out a process that could lead to the removal of four privately owned dams on the Klamath River. This dam removal would be one of the largest and most complex projects of its kind ever undertaken.
Some parts of the Klamath agreements are being carried out under existing authorities. Studies to inform a determination on dam removal under the KHSA by the Secretary of the Interior are complete, and some restoration actions have been initiated. However, congressional authorization is required for the most significant components of the agreements to be implemented.
The KBRA and KHSA did not address all outstanding issues in the basin. A water rights adjudication by the state of Oregon (in progress since the 1970s) is ongoing. In 2013, the adjudication reaffirmed “time immemorial” tribal water rights in the upper part of the Klamath Basin, confirming that tribal water rights are senior to those of other water rights holders. This resulted in a “call” on water rights (i.e., notice by senior water rights holders that their demands exceed available flows), and led to reductions to water supplies for some junior users during the low water year of 2013. To resolve these issues and prevent such a scenario from occurring again, a separate settlement agreement (the Upper Klamath Basin Settlement Agreement) was negotiated by stakeholders and finalized in April 2014. To be implemented, the agreement would need to be authorized along with the KBRA and KHSA.
The KBRA and KHSA were originally set to expire in 2012 if no authorizing legislation was enacted, but they have since been extended (most recently through 2015). Parties may also withdraw individually from the agreements, and several parties initiated this process of withdrawal.
In the 114th Congress, S. 133 would authorize the Klamath agreements, including a suite of new federal actions that have received support from disparate parties and are required for the agreements to be implemented. Previous legislation in the 113th Congress (S. 2379) was ordered to be reported out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on November 13, 2014.