The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) are companion agreements between Klamath Basin Tribes, Irrigators, fishermen, conservations, counties, Oregon, California, and federal agencies which aims to restore Klamath Basin fisheries and sustain local economies. In addition, dam owner PacifiCorp is a signatory of the KHSA. (list of supporters)

The Agreements include a broad set of measures designed to create robust conditions for fisheries restoration, as well as measures that provide greater stability for the Basin’s rural communities. We believe that the Basin will not achieve stability without addressing both environmental and economic issues.

The Agreements include:

  • a plan to remove 4 dams in the main-stem Klamath River;
  • increased flows for fish in the Klamath River;
  • greater reliability of irrigation water deliveries for agriculture, and a pathway to settling the Oregon water rights Adjudication;
  • reintroduction of salmon above the dams and into and above Upper Klamath Lake;
  • investment in comprehensive and coordinated habitat restoration in the upper and lower Basin;
  • a power program for Basin farmers and ranchers that seeks access to affordable power and a renewable energy infrastructure to offset rate increases and diversify revenue;
  • mitigation to counties for the effects of dam removal;
  • investment in tribal economic revitalization, primarily through fisheries and land restoration activities.

Why dam removal? Why not fish ladders?

Dam removal is the wisest approach from both economic and environmental perspectives. The Klamath Hydroelectric Project causes severe problems for fish: dams impede fish migration; alter flow regimes in ways that damage habitat and alter run timing; contribute to disease problems; and degrade water quality.

Economic studies by the California Energy Commission and others show dam removal to be less expensive than relicensing (due to expenses associated with mandated fish ladders, screens to protect downstream migrants, and measures to improve water quality). In fact, FERC asserts that relicensing the dams with mandated mitigation measures would result in the project operating at over a $20 million a year deficit (table 4-3 of FERC final EIS). Add to these economic factors the fact that these dams produce a relatively small amount of energy, and they provide no irrigation or drinking water diversions and its plain to see that in the case of the Klamath dams, dam removal is the most sensible choice.

See our Top 10 Reasons to Remove Klamath River Dams

Are the Two Agreements Connected? Why?

Yes, the two Agreements are written as companions to one another and Klamath Settlement Groups seek to enact the two through a single piece of legislation. KHSA states an interest in connecting dam removal to a broader effort that complements dam removal by providing ecosystem, economic and cultural benefits that allow comprehensive restoration of the Basin’s fisheries and greater stability for many of its rural communities.

On the environmental side, these measures include increased flows for fish, large-scale, coordinated habitat restoration, and reintroduction of salmon into the Upper Klamath Basin. In addition, the KBRA represents a water sharing agreement and mechanism for ensuring that power rates for farmers remain affordable. The goal is to end the never ending cycles of litigation between farming and fishing interests.

If we are ever to restore Klamath fisheries, it will require this sort of coordinated approach that considers both farm and fishing communities’ needs.

What is the significance of the KHSA?

The Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement, or KHSA, is a roadmap to the largest dam removal in US history. The KHSA describes the process for ensuring that dam removal is done safely and the mechanism to provide $450 million to fund the project. It has the support of Klamath River Tribes, Upper Basin irrigators, fishermen, conservation groups, and the dam owner, PacifiCorp.

What if the Secretary of Interior rules against dam removal?

The KHSA calls on the Secretary of the Interior to make a determination of whether or not dam removal is in the public interest. This determination must be consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Given the large body of existing evidence that shows dam removal is safe and would benefit fisheries, we are confident that the Secretary will indeed conclude that dam removal is needed. Besides, further environmental review is not only appropriate, it is mandated by law (National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, California Environmental Quality Act). Under any dam removal approach that complies with these environmental laws, the safety and feasiblity of removal would have to be further studied and undergo a public review before decommissioning could begin.

When will dam removal occur?

Under the KHSA, the dams would be breached in 2020. Between now and then, environmental reviews must be completed, engineering studies performed, and any preliminary construction activities such as diversion tunnels for draining the reservoirs will be carried out. In addition, the Klamath Agreements provide for improved habitat conditions in the interim period.

Will water diversions be reduced?

Yes, there is irrigation demand reduction required by the KBRA – but it is accomplished in a way that is more likely to be supported by the agricultural community because it does not exclusively depend on sale of water rights.

The KBRA describes a firm limit on Klamath Irrigation Project diversions that are less than historic diversions and the retirement of 30,000 acre feet of water use above Upper Klamath Lake. This means that Klamath Irrigation Project demand is reduced up to 100,000 acre feet in dry years and flows into Upper Klamath lake will be increased by 30,000 acre feet. The KBRA allows agricultural communities to decide how best to live within their mandated water allocations, with the intention of retaining as much agricultural production as may be possible within the bounds of reduced irrigation deliveries. Learn more about the details of these reductions in our fisheries section.

Do the Klamath Agreements weaken or change the Endangered Species Act?

No. The KBRA does describe the development of conservation programs that would provide “regulatory assurances” for farmers and ranchers who elect to participate. This does not mean amending or rolling back the ESA.

It means using the existing provisions for Habitat Conservation Plans and General Conservation Plans in section 7 of the Act to relieve landowners from “takings” provisions when they commit to significant restoration actions such as described in the KBRA. Since so much key salmon habitat is in private hands or controlled by farmers and ranchers, productive partnerships with the agricultural community are essential to long-term restoration. More details on ESA and the Agreements.

Do the Klamath Agreements provide more water for fish?

Yes, the KBRA includes significant increases in flows for fish. Tributaries above Upper Klamath Lake, and the Lake itself, will benefit from in-stream flow increases of 30,000 acre feet during the irrigation season every year. In addition, the capped allocation to the Klamath Irrigation Project is a guarantee of water for fish because the substantial reduction from historic Project diversions is dedicated to in-stream uses.

The proposed flow regimes will work in concert with dam removal and habitat restoration. No other venue allows for the three prongs needed for fisheries restortaion – more water, dam removal, habitat restoration. The KBRA approach balances agricultural and fisheries interests and creates a broad coalition seeking to move forward with Basin solutions.

It should also be noted that the KBRA does nothing to undermine the Endangered Species Act (ESA) which provides minimum flow requirements for ESA listed coho and minimum lake levels for ESA listed suckers. Although a new ESA mandated biological opinion will likely be required in concert with dam removal, the ESA will still serve as the safety net for river flows and lake levels. This represents a dramatic improvement over the current situation where the ESA minimum flows are effectively maximum flows as that is all we see in the river. Flows under the KBRA will exceed ESA minimums most of the time.

For more information see the section on Fisheries.

Do the Klamath Agreements increase water security for irrigators?

Yes, to the extent possible under existing law. The KBRA describes the allocated water delivery to the Irrigation Project based on the water year type – the amount available for farmers is greater in wetter years.

Signatory Tribes are agreeing to not litigate for more water than the KBRA provides as long as farmers follow the agreed upon limits on diversions and ESA listed species are recovering. The agreement also settles long standing water rights disputes between Klamath Tribes and the Irrigation Project in order to provide both communities with greater certainty and economic stability.

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Do the Klamath Agreements sacrifice Tribal water or fishing rights?

No water rights are waived, quantified, or adjudicated in the KBRA. Likewise, the KBRA does not affect any Tribes' fishing rights. The KBRA does describe the terms for settling the three decades old water claim by the Klamath Tribes of Oregon.

The Tribes who sign the KBRA will agree not to assert a senior water rights claim against Klamath Irrigation Project if the United States fully funds the fisheries reintroduction plan described in the agreement, irrigation diversions are capped as described in the agreement, and all four dams are removed. If the bargained for benefits are not realized the agreement is nullified.(section 15.3 of KBRA).

This agreement to not assert a water claim is specific to irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project. The Irrigators' commitment to a diversion cap, increase in flows from tributaries upstream of Upper Klamath Lake, and increased natural storage in Upper Klamath Lake, will yield flows greater than the Klamath has seen in over 50 years.

For more on this topic see section on Tribal Trust.

Do the Klamath Agreements sacrifice Wildlife Refuges on the Klamath Project?

No, in fact, the KBRA delivers significant new benefits for both Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges. The Refuges hold relatively junior rights to water, so in the past they had no guarantees of water deliveries. Under the KBRA, the Refuges are made part of the purpose of the irrigation project to assure water delieveries – 60,000 acre feet in wet years, 48,000 acre feet in dry years.

The KBRA also supports expansion of an innovative program – the Walking Wetlands – that increases wildlife habitat while working with agriculture on the Refuges. Finally, the KBRA expands waterfowl habitat by reconnecting former wetlands to Upper Klamath Lake and with the enormous river restoration program above Upper Klamath Lake.

All Tribal and conservation groups share an interest in restoring waterfowl habitat in the Upper Basin. Most believe that the KBRA represents a significant improvement for waterfowl. Farming on the Klamath Wildlife Refuges has been controversial for decades. This is the most fertile ground on the Irrigation Project, highly valued by farmers, and dealt with by Congress in statutes that put farming and wildlife values on par. For better or worse (depending where you stand), the laws related to the Wildlife Refuges on the Klamath Irrigation Project are unique in the country and create different conditions for these lands than for most other Refuges. For more details on Wildlife Refuges.

Who supports the Klamath Agreements?

A broad coalition of groups including the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes, agricultural organizations, conservation groups, non-Indian fishing groups, and federal and state agencies see the Klamath Agreements as the best pathway to achievelong-term stability, restoration and “peace on the river” in the Klamath Basin.

There are also a few agricultural groups, conservation groups and the Hoopa Valley Tribe who do not support the agreement. A restoration program of this magnitude, in a place as complex as the Klamath Basin, is unlikely to be managed by perfect consensus. However, the diversity of the supporters is indicative of the potential for this agreement to begin to bring real change to the Basin. List of organizations supporting the Klamath Settlement Agreements.

What hurdles remain?

There is still have a lot of work to do. Before the Secretary of Interior can determine whether or not to proceed with dam removal, we must first pass federal legislation to implement the Agreements.