Basin is an ecological jewel. Nearly 80% of the waterfowl on the Pacific Flyway over-winter there. The river was also once the third most productive salmon system in the
U.S. The Sprague, a major tributary, provides habitat for endangered
River and shortnose suckers (and historically, salmon).
Listing of suckers and salmon has strained relationships between Tribes, fishermen, and agriculture. In 2001, the Department of Interior shut off water to the Klamath Irrigation Project to protect fish. In 2002, a large salmon kill (over 35,000) further escalated conflicts.
The Klamath Tribes seek the return of reservation lands, and hold a senior water right in the un-adjudicated Basin. Meanwhile, rising land values and low commodity prices imperil agriculture. Resulting conflicts pit farmer against farmer, and irrigators against environmentalists and Tribes, resulting in years of expensive lawsuits.