Water Rights Issues in Rural Oregon Communities

Prepared by Mike Jones

The purpose of this course is to bring diverse community members together in order to learn about sustainable rural development in Oregon. Through listening, analysis and collaboration with different community stakeholders I feel as a student I began to develop a better understanding of the complex issues facing rural communities trying to achieve sustainable development. The course did consist include a non‑traditional approach to learning that blurs the boundaries between teacher/ student/ community/ researcher. Stakeholders with vested interests in issues of sustainable development in the Chiloquin and Klamath communities were invited to tell their stories to students who later had the opportunity to reflect upon this information in a collective setting. Group processing of the information obtained through these intense listening experiences contributed to my understanding of the issues, as presented from diverse social positions and perspectives. This is just a few excerpts from a research paper written by Mike Jones.

Course Syllabus





Spring ES/SOC 499 class






Mike Jones, Gerald Skelton Director of Culture and Heritage for the Klamath Tribe, and Zach Harris







The Klamath Lake, along with other various rivers, lakes and canals that surround it, are the basis for almost 500 species of wildlife in southern Oregon and parts of northern California. It also serves as the most important factor in the cultural preservation for the Klamath and Modoc tribes. The basis for the water crisis that is going on today in this region is that the current water levels and somewhat water quality are diminishing and reeking havoc on the areaís wildlife. The most notable argument from our guest stakeholders Gerald Skelton, Director of Culture and Heritage, is that the water levels are too shallow for the two species of sucker fish to fully mature and to spawn. This makes it difficult to the many other species that rely on the sucker for a source of food, the most popular being the bald eagle, which is also an endangered species. For more information about the issues of the bald eagle click here.


     One group of interest to me was the scientist. The scientific groups felt that the biological orders they have published were sound in reason and took the right actions to correct the current conditions at the upper and lower Klamath Lakes to help preserve the natural habitat as well as the fish population. They also feel that the two species of sucker fish as well as the salmon are two of the most important pieces in the water crisis puzzle. Otherwise, they would have sided with the irrigators and allowed them to take out as much water as they wanted.

For more information please visit. Chiloquin Dam Study website



     Another group of interest that started being talked about more throughout our class was the power company. Since power companies use hydro power to produce electricity, they rely on constant water flow to create enough force to turn the turbine to produce electricity. Iím not sure of the size or the power of the turbines at Klamath Lake but I do know that the ones used at the Detroit Dam are three stories tall and produce 70,000 horse power and weigh over 500 tons. Without the use of water to generate electricity, PacifiCore now has to find other means of power which leads to higher costs both for them and higher rates for the consumer. This now becomes a problem for the irrigators since many of them have agreements with PacifiCore for electricity rates. Since the Klamath water crisis, the power company is considering breaking those contracts and increasing their rates. This would lead to yet another problem for the irrigators.


Regardless of what someoneís standing is on the water crisis debate, it is very apparent that there isnít going to be any short term solution to this problem. As stated by Lindsey Lyones of the Watershed and Natural Resourced Education Corporation and other speakers, the way I understood it was that the current biological order is in place for ten years. This doesnít leave any room for improvement. Another factor to consider is that there is 70% less rainfall this year compared to the average year (National Weather Service). This is going to be very difficult for them to keep the water levels stable without the irrigators even taking any water.It will take much time and understanding to solve every stakeholder, every community member, every tribal member or farmers water issues.Nothing will be done in my opinion until people can come together as a council to find some positives solutions to these problems.

I have lived in Oregon most of my life and have never been to Klamath Falls or Chiloquin.That is a shame. This experience has shown me that many issues that I deal with in my person life are miniature compared to real life issues affecting people in my state.We have some real issues to address not only as a class but as a nation.This class has taught me to open my eyes and ears to voices and concerns around me. I would recommend this class to anyone who wants to make a change or even just to learn something new.


I hope you enjoy the information presented on this website. For questions or comments feel free to email me at jonesmi@onid.orst.edu