Review: Water War in the Klamath Basin: Macho Law, Combat Biology, and Dirty Politics

Article excerpt


Klamath, ESA, water conflict, water law, bioregionalism

Review: Water War in the Klamath Basin: Macho Law, Combat Biology, and Dirty Politics By Doremus, Holly and A. Dan Tarlock Doremus, Holly and A. Dan Tarlock. Water War in the Klamath Basin: Macho Law, Combat Biology, and Dirty Politics. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2008. 249 pp. ISBN 10: 1-59726-394-X. US $30 ppbk. Recycled, acid-free paper.

In 2007, the Klamath Basin was named one of the best one hundred places to live in the United States. A prime reason is its spectacular beauty: high desert with a large wetland area. The Basin's national wildlife refuges support threefourths of the Pacific Flyway's migratory birds, and provide major salmon spawning habitat.

But it is not such a wonderful place to live in a dry year, when conflict arises over who has rights to the limited water. Birds and ecosystems; fish and the communities that live off them; farmers; and hydropower all struggle to survive. Doremus and Tarlock, both law professors, focus on the dry year of 2001, when irrigation headgates to the Klamath Project were closed. That action stemmed from the government's listing of the Klamath salmon and suckers under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It led to such outrage that biologists removed government license plates from their vehicles for their own safety.

Historical legacies fuel the ongoing tensions over water in the Klamath. The authors demonstrate that American attitudes toward the West, the drive to "settle" it, produced laws about land and water rights, about natural resources and our obligations and rights to them: "The basin's problems stem from a long series of decisions, taken in good faith, about how the area's water should be used." (184)

The Basin is home to a number of minority cultures: farmers, recruited in part from World War II veterans; the Klamath and Modoc Indian tribes; the fishing communities of the lower basin, and many others, including the suckers that are failing to reproduce and other organisms unnamed and uncounted. The Klamath's constellation of communities is unique, but the problem it faces is not. As the authors note, 2001 is over, but dry years are a natural feature of the West. …


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