By: Nico Villalobos:
Droughts in Upper Klamath Lake in 2001 posed many problems to the Klamath tribes and farmers that rely on the lakes for hunting, gathering, and irrigation, raising the question of whose water rights superseded the other’s. After federal officials declared a drought in 2001 at the Upper Klamath Lake area, the US Bureau of Reclamation, responsible for providing irrigation water and farmland in the Klamath Basin, announced that irrigation water might not be available for basin farmers. The droughts pushed farmers to sue the federal government for $1 billion in property loss and determined Klamath tribes and environmentalists to fight for the safety of wildlife native to Upper Klamath Lake. The 2001 droughts changed the way water rights were handled between Klamath Tribes and farmers living on the basin, beginning a struggle over who had senior rights to the waters.
Klamath Tribes have enjoyed fishing, hunting, and gathering rights on the former reservation land since the Treaty of 1864, claims that outdate other water claims from colonialist farmers in the basin by a large margin. Droughts in 2001 endangered Lost River and short nose suckerfish, thus imposed on Klamath water rights by threatening native fish species essential to the deep-rooted hunting lifestyle of the tribes. Klamath tribes and environmentalists pushed for water level regulations in the Upper Klamath Lake to stop the growing number of fish killed by falling water levels.
Farmers of the Klamath basin had to face irrigation shut offs as the federal government sided with Klamath tribes. Reclamation officials shut off the bank of six head gates on the A Canal of the Klamath Project in April of 2001. The shut off of the canals caused protest among farmers, cumulating in summer protests like the Klamath Tea Party and the Klamath Bucket Brigade that brought national attention to the justifiably angry farmers who lost the water they needed for crops and livestock. After fighting for their water rights, a judge ruled in 2002 in favor of Klamath Tribes taking precedence in water rights over non-tribal irrigators.
The issue of water rights may be settled, honoring early treaties with Klamath Tribes, but the issue still remains of wildlife conservation and irrigation for farmers. The Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement, signed in 2014, is the latest in a line of attempted agreements that aims to preserve the Klamath lifestyle and wild life, doing so by giving tribes senior water rights and removing hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River, only then promising water to Klamath Basin farmers. Agreements like the UKBCA are steps in the right direction in giving water rights back to the Klamath people, and as California Gov. Jerry Browns believes, “ . . . We’re finally starting to get it right after so many years of getting it wrong.” After the Upper Klamath Lakes droughts in 2001, water rights became the big question, and defining Klamath Tribe water rights as primary is the key to setting forward on a path to restoring the Klamath’s native culture and protecting the land. As the re-establishment of Klamath water rights continues to unfold and no one knows the answer to how exactly the future will look, Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke answers in a way that perfectly shows the Klamath Tribe state of mind, believing “What’s sacred needs to be kept sacred”
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Water Resources Department. “Informational Resource on Distribution of Water.” 14 Apr. 2017. E-mail.
 Water Resources Department. “Informational Resource on Distribution of Water.” 14 Apr. 2017. E-mail.
 “Feds Reclose Klamath Headgates.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 24 Aug. 2001. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.
 “Klamath Project Timeline 1882-2008.” Klamath Basin Crisis. Ed. Herald and News. Herald and News, 15 Feb. 08. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.
 “Judge affirms Klamath Tribes’ water right of time immemorial”. U.S. Water News Online, March 2002 (retrieved 20 April 2017)
 Mercury News. “Klamath River Dam Removal Deal Signed by Top Federal, State Officials.” The Mercury News. The Mercury News, 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.