Agreement ending 100 years of fighting over the uses of the Klamath River’s waters falls to a group of local malcontents-

After many years of fighting over salmon, dams, irrigation water, tribal treaty rights and ocean fishing matters came to an unpleasant head in 2001-2 when VP Dick Cheney sided with irrigators and let 70,000 salmon die for lack of water. Cheney’s action shut down much of the commercial fishing on the West Coast.  Threats were made and prospects were for even more conflict, but in 2004 the parties began to negotiate and early in 2010 a grand plan was announced to give all sides much, but not all, of what they wanted.

Various kinds of fishermen, farmers, conservation groups, Indian tribes, governors of several states and an enthusiastic Ken Salazar for the Department of Interior signed the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. In the agreement, four dams were to be torn down to rebuild the salmon runs. Irrigation farmers would be given a certain supply of water for their fields.  The agreement said it would be enough water to get them through a dry summer.  It was not all the water every farmer wanted, however. The Indian tribes would have their land claims settled and would receive lands many thought had been lost for good.

The good feeling and hope for the future has been dashed, however. A local (Klamath County) group, the Klamath County Tea Party Patriots organized and defeated three Klamath County Commissioners, putting the entire agreement in limbo — dead for now and maybe forever. Speaking for the Tea Party, the New York Times reports Tom Mallams, a farmer and new county commissioner who beat a 15-year incumbent, saying “The restoration deal is not going to go anywhere at all, . . .” “It’s slowly dying on the vine.”

The forces that led to the conflict, however, have not gone away. With predicted increasingly dry summers, it is expected they will bet worse. A number of groups have good legal handles for more lawsuits.  In fact a record run of salmon appears to be in the making this fall on the Trinity River.  The estimate is 380,000 chinook salmon. The Trinity is the largest tributary of the Klamath.  However, the salmon could again all die because of a failure to release enough presently being stored behind an irrigation dam.

Here is the latest story on the controversy. Feds urge extra water to prevent repeat of salmon kill. Agency recommends higher releases to help an expected record run on the Trinity River. By Jeff Barnard. The Associated Press in the Register-Guard. Perhaps people harmed by the Tea Party will soon be out to make them eat their words.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

7 Responses to Tea Party ruins big agreement to restore the Klamath River and settle long term nasty dispute

  1. john philip says:

    And the Colorado barely reaches the sea …. You’d think the good folks in the west wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes we in the east made more than 100 years ago – presumably when people didn’t know any better. I guess not …

  2. JB says:

    Great example both of how collaborative efforts can work–and be undermined by people who won’t compromise. What a shame.

  3. Matthew Peterkin says:

    Another great example of the Tea Party protesting federal “interference” in their life while ignoring that it is a federal program that makes their life possible. The Tea Party is not against federal programs; they are only against federal programs that don’t benefit them – just like most other partisans.

  4. Tom Page says:

    The key is to get Congress to approve the deal. Until that hurdle is cleared, the agreement is still vulnerable to these kinds of local politics. It may take ESA action to bring some focus back to the discussion, who knows?

    A similar type of activity is occurring in Custer County where a small group of Tea Partiers have been working to convince the Custer County Commission to use RS 2477 claims to undermine the collaborative Boulder-White Clouds agreement (CIEDRA). This has been allowed to happen due to Congress inaction, despite efforts by powerful Idaho Rep Mike Simpson, the bill’s sponsor, to move forward with a hearing on the BWC agreement.

  5. Felice Pace says:

    It is not just the Tea Party which opposes these deals but also 3 tribes, 2 regional environmental groups and the longest serving Klamath River environmental activist who actually lives in the Basin (me). We oppose these deals because we think there is a better way to get the dams down sooner via a return to the FERC process – and because the related water deal is not in the interest of the Klamath River or Klamath Salmon.

    Contrary to Interior’s us-them hype, these deals (engineered by the feds and negotiated in secret)favor the rich and powerful – the 1% – at the expense of less well-connected folks, the River and Klamath Salmon.

    Deals which favor some interests over other interests and some tribes over other tribes will not solve the Klamath’s problems or result in peace and comity.

  6. Ida says:

    Another fishkill would be terrible. I hope something can be done.


July 2012


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey