The Klamath Tribes possess the oldest water rights in the nation, and as the Los Angeles Times reports, these Indigenous Peoples of Oregon are about to reclaim what they have been fighting for during the past several decades.
The tribes of Upper Klamath Lake and many of its tributaries have water rights dating back to “time immemorial,” as the State of Oregon termed it when deciding in the tribes’ favor and granting them the rights on March 7, as the Associated Press reported. You can’t get much older than that.
What this means is that the Klamath tribes have the legal ok to cut off water to wildlife refuges and farms if it runs low. And, the Los Angeles Times reports, given a severe drought that has descended may well have the region on the brink of a full-scale water war: tribal fisheries versus agriculture.
The lake serves as a reservoir to irrigate 1,400 farms under a federal program—200,000 acres or so—as well as being home to two endangered suckerfish species, the Lost River and the Shortnose, both of which are sacred to the tribes, the newspaper reported.
"A lot of people's water could be shut off, and that has huge implications and it affects peoples' livelihoods to the core," said Jeff Mitchell, a tribal council member and main water negotiator, to the Los Angeles Times. "But I also look at our fishery that is on the brink of extinction. We have a responsibility to protect that resource, and we'll do what we need to do to make sure that the fish survive."
The March ruling in Klamath County Circuit Court in Klamath Falls stipulated that the tribes has the final say when it comes to determining whether fish or farms get water preference in the Upper Klamath Basin. Complicating all this is a severe drought that is under way in the region, the Los Angeles Times says. A truce that would help the situation move forward sits unsigned in Congress.