Balancing Water: Restoring the Klamath Basin

Balancing Water: Restoring the Klamath Basin

Balancing Water: Restoring the Klamath Basin

Balancing Water: Restoring the Klamath Basin


"A book of unusual personality, charm, and force; it should greatly please a wide range of readers, including those sophisticated about conservation and land-use questions, and it should make even the hardest-line ranchers think some new thoughts about their future strategies."--Ernest Callenbach, author of "Ecotopia

"What a grand collaboration: Kittredge's words and the Blakes' images take us to the soul of the Klamath Country, at once a magnificent, battered, and resolute landscape. This finely-crafted blend of artistry, history, literature, public policy, and ecology tells the full and compelling story of one great western place and its people. In so doing, Balancing Water tells us a great deal about how, if we find the common will to work it right, we can shape the futures of other watersheds across the west."--Charles Wilkinson, Distinguished University Professor at the University of Colorado, and author of "Fire on the Plateau and "The Eagle Bird

"Coexistence has never been a popular principle in the American West, but as this book makes clear it has become indispensable for the survival of both endangered nature and endangered rural community. I was inspired by this brilliant collaboration of writer and photographers. They show a West that is changing for the good. They bring a message of hope that is compelling and timely." --Donald Worster, Hall Professor of American History, Univ of Kansas and author of "Rivers of Empire: Water, ARidity, and the Growth of the American West and "Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas


Pintails and mallards and teal in their quick undulating vee-shaped flights were everywhere in the early December twilight, wheeling and calling, setting their wings, settling. I was with Tupper Blake at the little property he calls Marsh Island Ranch. We were looking out over the Lower Klamath Lake National Wildlife Refuge. I was happy like a child.

Only a week or so before, Jim Hainline, head biologist at the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges, had flown the wetlands in the basin and estimated 3.7 million waterbirds, including 772,000 pintail ducks, 525,000 mallards, and slightly over 700,000 green-winged teals. Those were big numbers, way up from the annual fall count in recent years. Maybe the seemingly irreversible decline in the numbers of waterfowl using the refuges had stopped. Maybe the Pacific Flyway was coming back.

But in 1955 some 7 million waterbirds had been counted. and numbers on the Tule Lake side of the refuges now were disastrously low. By 1997 the Wilderness Society had listed the Klamath Basin refuges as one of the most endangered wild areas in the United States, saying, “Ecological survival is in doubt because of inadequate water supply, inappropriate farming and pesticides. ”

This is a story about watershed politics. It's about federal reclamation projects and farmers, cowhand ranchers and wildlife refuges, endangered suckers and bull trout and salmon, Native American tribespeople and hydroelectric dams and a little city, all wanting to use the same waters. People in the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon are irrevocably bound together by a system of flowing water. That water is their commons, the knot that holds them together while disputes over its uses drive them apart. the story here is about their attempts to solve intractable problems in communal and ultimately just ways. It is about their attempts to rethink the future, as people always have in the American West, in terms of watershed commonalities.

This is a story about conflict, people trying to preserve both their economic independence and remnants of what was once a sort of wildlands paradise—often quite contradic-

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