"The Klamath River Basin: Decline and Restoration," by Jacques Leslie

Monday, October 8, 2007
Klamath tribes and allies protest at hydro industry conference in Portland, Oregon. Aug. 2006.
Klamath tribes and allies protest at hydro industry conference in Portland, Oregon. Aug. 2006.
Patrick McCully/International Rivers

Essay written by California writer Jacques Leslie in 2007 for the forthcoming multimedia exhibit, "Water, Rivers and People."

Compared to most other rivers, the Klamath is geographically backwards— it originates in marshes in high Oregon desert and descends through canyons near its Northern California mouth— and its length, a mere 254 miles, is barely a tenth of the Mississippi’s. Thanks to a constantly shifting sand bar at its Pacific Ocean mouth, it is also unnavigable, a major reason why the basin remains some of the continental U.S.’s most remote terrain. Yet, improbably, the Klamath has earned a reputation as the U.S.’s most contentious water basin, pitting farmers and ranchers on one side against native Americans and commercial fishermen on the other, all fighting over the river’s dwindling resources. Over the last half-dozen years, the conflict has entangled a raft of Bush Administration officials, conspicuously including Vice President Dick Cheney; investor Warren Buffett, the world’s third-richest man; the right-wing property rights movement; at least a dozen government agencies; and numerous environmental and human rights groups.

Yet for all that, the basin’s users are now at the brink of a stunning reconciliation, setting a monumental precedent for resolving even the most bitter natural resource disputes. Still undetermined is the fate of four obsolescent, environmentally disastrous hydroelectric dams that span the Klamath, including two that would become the tallest dams ever taken down— anywhere. The dams’ removal is considered the first crucial step towards the restoration of the Klamath and its salmon stocks.

Download the full essay below.

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Craig Tucker, Spokesman, Karuk Tribe: ctucker@karuk.us