As Klamath Basin faces another dry year, the effects are far-reaching


Klamath Basin has been plagued by drought and lack of water for years. Last year the region faced one of the worst droughts on record, and this year Governor Kate Brown declared a drought emergency in Klamath County for the third year in a row.

Related: Conversations of 2021: Drought in Klamath Basin

The effects are far-reaching for tribes, ranchers, farmers, waterfowl defenders, and people who rely on residential wells. OPB spoke to locals to find out how they are coping as they face another dry year.

Yurok tribe sees salmon population increase, but numbers remain low

Barry McCovey, director of the Yurok Tribe’s fisheries department, stands at the tribe’s fishing pier where the Klamath River meets the Pacific Ocean in 2021.

Sage Van Wing/OPB

Last year, the Yurok Tribe in northern California faced catastrophic fish kills. The losses will affect salmon populations for years to come. But this year, the number of salmon is doing better. Barry McCovey is the Director of the Yurok Tribe Fisheries Department.

Although the numbers have improved, he says it’s important to recognize that salmon populations remain low.

“We are still in a very bad state,” he said. “Last year was so disastrous that it makes this year beautiful. But this year, without any stretch of the imagination, is good. This year is also terrible.

McCovey said he hopes the funding can help the salmon. Habitat restoration will play a major role in improving the health of the Klamath River, but he says the region has a long way to go to recover. The tribe also remains focused on removing dams in the area.

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Klamath County remains in emergency mode as wells continue to dry up

Oregon Governor Kate Brown signs a drought emergency declaration in Klamath Falls on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown signs a 2018 drought emergency declaration in Klamath Falls.

Liam Moriarty/Jefferson Public Radio

Klamath County is facing another year of drought emergency, leaving residents with wells that have dried up. The county received state assistance to truck in water.

Kelley Minty Morris is Chair of the Klamath County Board of Commissioners. She says the county remains in dire straits, even with some rainfall from earlier in the year.

“What’s disheartening is that we’re still not out of the emergency response,” she said. “So not only did we continue to have wells not recharging, but in 2022 we had a significant number of new complaints. So we’ve been in emergency response mode since July of last year. »

State emergency relief funding will continue through the end of 2023. As residents work to deepen their wells, resources remain limited and the process has been slow.

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Klamath Tribes Sue Feds Over Endangered Fish

Populations of koptu, or shortnose suckers, have declined sharply due to habitat loss.

Populations of koptu, or shortnose suckers, have declined sharply due to habitat loss.

Courtesy of Klamath Tribes

The Klamath tribes claim that federal agencies are not doing enough to protect endangered fish and have therefore sued the federal government over the C’waam and Koptu, also known as the Lost River and snout suckers short. These fish are considered important subsistence and heritage fish for the tribes.

Clayton Dumont is the president of the Klamath Tribes. He says they are one disastrous event away from losing the fish.

“Our people have a long memory and we think of the things our ancestors worked on and achieved all the time,” he said. “Being the board that is in place when these fish go missing would be a really, really tough thing to deal with. We are right there.

The Klamath Tribes are also working on habitat restoration with willing landowners in the area. Dumont says the tribes have been in frequent contact with the Yurok tribe to discuss ways to heal the basin.

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Herders and farmers face drought pressures

Jeanette Yturriondobeitia lost 132 head of cattle in the Long Draw fire.  The fire was considered under control this weekend.

Southern Oregon ranchers are dealing with droughts and the aftermath of wildfires.

Amelie Templeton

Some southern Oregon farmers and ranchers are considering their future as water shortages continue to plague the region.

Becky Hyde is a rancher in southern Oregon and east of Bend. She says both regions have had to deal with the prolonged impact of the drought.

“I would say it’s been quite a stressful year, but not just for our family,” she said. “If you think about what’s happening on a large scale over Klamath Lake, but also in all these places of extreme drought, on the east side of Oregon, especially southeast Oregon. It’s been quite intense.

Hyde says the different stakeholders in the region need to come together, learn to adapt and work on solutions. She says it’s important to remember that while some places in Oregon are flooded with water, other places remain parched.

“What we are facing is exceptional drought, climate change, political problems.” Hyde says she reminds herself every day to stop whining and be a warrior: “It’s just my way of being, ‘OK, you gotta keep getting up in the morning and taking care of your communities , your family and your pets.’”

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Agriculture and waterfowl groups join forces to manage water

Wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin often feature a mixture of commercial agriculture and what remains of historic wetlands.

Wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin often feature a mixture of commercial agriculture and what remains of historic wetlands.

Multiple stakeholders continue to compete for limited resources. There is also a lot of disagreement across the basin over whether and how to collaborate. And some don’t see extreme and increasing droughts as the biggest problem.

“There is no water shortage problem,” said Moss Driscoll, director of water policy for the Klamath Water Users Association. “There’s a deep problem with people getting along.”

The Klamath Water Users Association is an organization that represents farmers and ranchers in the region. Ducks Unlimited works to conserve wetlands and focuses on beneficial habitats for waterfowl. And now the groups have teamed up on a project to recycle water.

“The Klamath Basin is one of the most important areas of the Pacific Flyway for waterfowl,” said Jeff McCreary of Ducks Unlimited. “How do we achieve multi-benefit solutions and use that drop of water in a way that it has maximum benefit for fish, maximum benefit for agriculture, maximum benefit for wetlands and waterfowl? »

The groups worked on a proposal to receive funding under the federal infrastructure program passed last year. The region, McCreary said, should take a holistic approach to water management.

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