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Water War in the Klamath Basin

Macho Law, Combat Biology, and Dirty Politics

by Holly Doremus and A. Dan Tarlock

In the drought summer of 2001, a simmering conflict between agricultural and environmental interests in southern Oregon's Upper Klamath Basin turned into a guerrilla war of protests, vandalism, and apocalyptic rhetoric when the federal Bureau of Reclamation shut down the headgates of the Klamath Project to conserve water needed by endangered species. This was the first time in U.S. history that the headgates of a federal irrigation project were closed—and irrigators denied the use of their state water rights—in favor of conservation. Farmers went so far as to mount a brief rebellion to keep the water flowing, but ultimately conceded defeat.

In Water War in the Klamath Basin: Macho Law, Combat Biology and Dirty Politics,, CPR Member Scholars Holly Doremus and A. Dan Tarlock examine the genesis of the crisis and the fallout from it, offering a comprehensive review of the event, the history leading up to it, and the lessons it holds for anyone seeking to understand conflicts over water use in the arid West and, more generally, natural resource conflicts of all kinds. The authors focus primarily on the legal institutions that contributed to the conflict—what they call “the accretion of unintegrated resource management and environmental laws” that make environmental protection so challenging, especially in politically divided regions with a long-standing history of entitlement-based resource allocation.

Water War in the Klamath Basin highlights and explores the common elements that are fundamental to natural resource conflicts.  The book is a wide-ranging look at a topic of great importance for anyone concerned with the management, use, and conservation of increasingly limited natural resources.

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