The Klamath Basin: a Bad Water Deal

Like any other deal allocating scarce natural resources, the newly announced Klamath Water Deal should be judged on the merits, that is, on what it actually says and does, not on press statements and spin. All Klamath Water Deals should be viewed within the context of the push by the federal government and western states since the late 1980s to “settle” outstanding tribal water rights. To date, over 30 such agreements have been ratified by Congress and dozens more – including the Klamath Water Deal – are in the works.

Examination of completed deals reveals that the federal government’s agenda has been to keep water with white farmers and especially with irrigators who get irrigation water from the US Bureau of Reclamation. The same is true of the Klamath Water Deal.

As the legal trustee for federal tribes, the federal government is supposed to protect and advance the tribes’ interests. However, examination of dozens of western water deals shows that the Feds have not acted in good faith as the tribes’ trustee. Instead the feds have encouraged tribes to accept government funding in exchange for giving up – or agreeing not to exercise – tribal water rights.

Those water rights are the only hope for really restoring our rivers and – in the case of western salmon rivers – our salmon runs; that hope is evaporating as more tribes settle for government funding rather than sticking to the right to restoration flows. The idea that government funded restoration projects can substitute for restoration flows is a chimera; tribes, environmental and fishing groups that have bought into that myth are sadly misguided.

While some tribes have negotiated better deals than others, in general western tribes have or are in the process of given up water rights worth billions for the modern equivalent of a fistful of beads. Historians will look back at this western water settlement era as the second great rip off of US Indigenous Peoples – first they took the land and tried to “exterminate” the people; now they are taking the water.

Tribal governments, which are cash strapped and dependent on the feds for funding, can not be expected to resist pressures to settle even when that is not in the long term interest of the people those tribal governments represent.

In the Klamath River Basin the Klamath Tribes are willing to not exercise rights to restoration river flows in order to regain their land base which was illegally and immorally terminated by the Feds in the 1960s. The Klamath Tribes should not have to chose between land and water but that is the reality they face.

Felice Pace is a longtime environmental activist in northern California. You can find his writings online at Bearitude in Black.

More articles by:

Felice Pace is a longtime environmental activist in northern California. You can find his writings online at Bearitude in Black.

March 22, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Italy, Germany and the EU’s Future
David Rosen
The Further Adventures of the President and the Porn Star
Gary Leupp
Trump, the Crown Prince and the Whole Ugly Big Picture
The Hudson Report
Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons and Debt in Antiquity
Steve Martinot
The Properties of Property
Binoy Kampmark
Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Surveillance Capitalism
Jeff Berg
Russian to Judgment
Gregory Barrett
POSSESSED! Europe’s American Demon Must Be Exorcised
Robby Sherwin
What Do We Do About Facebook?
Sam Husseini
Trump Spokesperson Commemorates Invading Iraq by Claiming U.S. Doesn’t Dictate to Other Countries; State Dept. Defends Invasion
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us