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Klamath Agreements Terminate Due to Lack of Congressional Action

Congress failed to pass a bill by the end of 2015 explicitly authorizing implementation of federal actions required under the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (“KBRA”) and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (“KHSA”). As a result, the agreements are dead.

The KHSA and KBRA were negotiated among more than 50 stakeholder groups to govern the removal of four hydroelectric dams in the Klamath Basin. The KHSA calls for the Secretary of the Interior to issue a Secretarial Determination of whether removing the dams “1) will advance restoration of the salmonid fisheries of the Klamath Basin; and 2) is in the public interest,” based upon a review and analysis of the available science, data and information.  The KBRA provided for sustainability of fisheries, water supplies and communities.

The agreements were crafted to resolve long-standing conflicts over water. The impetus to begin negotiations started in 2001, when the agricultural water users in the basin had their allocations of federal project water substantially reduced. That year, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that there was only 70,000 AF available to high priority lands (compared to a normal volume of 500,000 AF), and about 80% of the lands received no water at all. (For additional background on the allocation reduction, see “Reclamation Announces Klamath Water Project Allocation,” Water Strategist May 2001). Additional events including a fish die-off, fishing season and fishery closures, and another year of agricultural water curtailments furthered the case.

On December 18, 2015, after Congress adjourned without passing the necessary legislation, PacifiCorp, owner of the four hydroelectric dams, issued a corporate statement expressing concern over what will happen next.

“Though PacifiCorp is disappointed that Congress did not act this year to enable the locally negotiated compromise on a range of difficult water-related issues in the Klamath Basin, the company urges both members of the local congressional delegations and the parties and stakeholders to remain committed to enactment of an agreement in 2016,” the statement read. “We share the concern of many settlement parties that continued inaction could fracture the broad coalition that has chosen compromise over counterproductive confrontation and litigation on these difficult issues. We have, however, never been closer in Congress and have a unique opportunity to finish what was started more than a decade ago.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also expressed disappointment, but vowed a commitment to finding another way to meet the objectives outlined in the agreements.

“While the KBRA will terminate due to the lack of congressional authorization, we still believe the future of the basin lies with negotiated agreements and we will work hard with the parties to find ways to achieve their collective goals while they take necessary steps to protect the long-term interests of the people of the Klamath Basin and the important natural resources on which they depend for their cultural, economic and spiritual livelihood,” said Secretary Jewell.

A third agreement, the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement—which is a settlement that establishes the Klamath Tribes’ water rights as senior rights in the basin—would also have been authorized by the legislation.


Written by Marta L. Weismann