Throughout the world, there are numerous environmental problems resulting from human population pressure on local natural resources. The battle over water rights by farmers and salmons at the Klamath River is one such environmental problem. The Klamath River flows from southern Oregon to northern California (Johnson, 2003). Since the 19th century, farmers in Oregon region have relied on the water from the Klamath River to undertake farming activities, through a project known as the Klamath Reclamation Project (an irrigation project). Oregon region is a semi-arid area. Therefore, farmers depend on irrigation for agriculture as opposed to natural precipitation. The Klamath Reclamation Project is made of 19 canals, covering a distance of 185 miles inside the farms within southern Oregon (Johnson, 2003). The project has three water pumping plants, which pump water from the river into the canals for irrigation (Johnson, 2003).
The official use of water form the Klamath River started in 1905, when the federal government established a funding program to assist war veterans and homesteaders open irrigation land, in order to provide themselves with means of livelihoods (Jenkins, 2007). More than 250,000 acres of land were put under irrigation along the Klamath River basin. As the population of Oregon continued to increase, more and more water was diverted from the Klamath River into the farms to aid in irrigation. Crisis over the Klamath water started in 2001, after people in downstream begun to experience low water flows, causing death of Coho salmon and other fish spices downstream (Jenkins, 2007). This crisis was caused by increased national consciousness over protection of endangered species, and of-course, the 2001 drought. Death of salmon and other fish species caused the worse shortage of fish in the US history. In fact, Coho salmon and suckerfish were classified as endangered species, and the endangered Species Act placed them under its protection (Jenkins, 2007).
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As a reaction to dwindling fish and water supply in southern Oregon downstream, the federal government ordered closure of the Klamath Irrigation Project by locking the main gate, which led to the main irrigation canal (Jenkins, 2007). This was in April 2001. Some farmers moved from the region in search of greener-pastures, others started selling their farming equipments, while other stayed, hoping the project would be revived once more. In 2002, during the administration of President Bush, full water supply for the irrigation project was restored (Meiners & Konsnik, 2003). However, due to low water flow, there was a disease outbreak, and many salmons died. The impact was on the Indian tribes, which depend on salmon as a source of food and income. Since then, there has been crisis over water rights among the farmers, anglers, environmental conservatists, researchers, and the government (Meiners & Konsnik, 2003).
The conflict over the Klamath water basin has not yet been resolved. However, various agencies have developed proposals for solving the crisis. One of the proposed solutions by the government and some environmental conservatists is that, the federal government should buy the land under irrigation from the farmers (Meiners & Konsnik, 2003). Researchers compared the buying of land from farmers as a betrayal of the community by the government. They argue that, this is short-term solution to the problem, since the government plans to sell back the land to private interests after 10 years. Another group of conservatists proposes that, irrigation should continue in 20,000 acres, but with conservation easements: voluntary restriction of water demand for irrigation (Meiners & Konsnik, 2003). Others are of the opinion that, a water bank, like the one at Yakima basin in Washington, should be a built at Klamath basin, to provide water reservoir, which the farmers can utilize during dry seasons, instead of depleting river waters. In my opinion, the best alternative would be to build a water bank. This would provide long-term solution to the problem, since the other proposed solutions are short-lived.
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