The public review draft of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement for the Sustainability of Public and Trust Resources and Affected Communities (the "KBRA") was released on January 7, 2010. A day later the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (the "Hydroelectric Settlement") was released to the public. The release of these agreements is the culmination of over five years of work on the part of PacifiCorp, irrigators, tribes, environmental groups, and federal, state, and local governments to craft a unique solution to the water and other resource conflicts of the Klamath Basin, which runs from Southern Oregon to the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. In 2001, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shut off water deliveries to farmers within the Bureau's Klamath Reclamation Project to maintain water in the Klamath River for fish protected by the federal Endangered Species Act ("ESA"). That action set off a firestorm of protest and concern, including calls to abolish or amend the ESA, as well as responses from the tribal and environmental communities. After the 2001 water shutoff, PacifiCorp began the process to relicense its Klamath Hydroelectric Project before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, lawsuits over the 2001 shutoff were filed, the United States and Klamath Tribes reopened a historic tribal water rights case, and the state of Oregon continued to conduct hearings in the Klamath Basin Water Rights Adjudication to determine the water rights of the most senior water right holders on the Oregon side of the Klamath Basin, including the Klamath Tribes and the Klamath Reclamation Project. Each of these proceedings was contentious and viewed as threatening the values of one or more interest groups. Amidst all of this turmoil, some in the community decided it was time to try something different – to talk. Eventually the talks coalesced into a settlement group.
The KBRA's core agreements center around the allocation of water for irrigation and fish, the restoration of habitat to support fisheries, and providing affordable power for irrigation. The KBRA also cross-references and to an extent relies on the implementation of the Hydroelectric Settlement in which PacifiCorp and many of the same parties to the KBRA agree on the terms under which the four lower dams of PacifiCorp's hydroelectric project on the Klamath River will be decommissioned and removed. When completed, the decommissioning and dam removal will be the largest ever accomplished in the United States.
The KBRA and the Hydroelectric Settlement are unique to the Klamath Basin, but they deserve broad attention across the West for the lessons and models they provide. Key among the lessons of the Klamath is that resolution of the region's natural resource disputes requires a comprehensive, basin-wide approach. Earlier single-issue efforts faltered for lack of broad appeal and support. The KBRA addresses water and fish, for example, from the headwaters of the Klamath River in Oregon to the Pacific Ocean in California. It includes parties representing all of the major interests in the basin, and it addresses each of those parties' concerns while keeping as its fundamental goal the maintenance of sustainable farming, ranching and tribal communities.
The KBRA also provides a model for such agreements. The issues of the Klamath Basin are large and will take many more years to fully understand and address. The KBRA does not attempt to resolve all of these issues. Rather, in many instances it creates institutions and processes for understanding and addressing unresolved issues. In this regard the KBRA is more of a governance document than a settlement of disputes.
Stoel Rives represents the Upper Klamath Water User's Association ("UKWUA"), a collection of irrigators who live above Upper Klamath Lake, in KBRA negotiations. UKWUA formed for the purpose of addressing issues of importance to landowners in the upper Klamath Basin who do not receive water from the Klamath Reclamation Project.
The KBRA and the Hydroelectric Settlement, along with summaries of both, can be found at the following website: http://www.edsheets.com/Klamathdocs.html.