Department of Interior announces landmark agreement to fund Upper Klamath Basin restoration

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a historic agreement on Feb. 14 with the Klamath Tribes, Yurok Tribe, Karuk Tribe, and Klamath Water Users Association to advance collaborative efforts to restore the Klamath Basin ecosystem and improve water supply reliability for Klamath project agriculture, ecosystem restoration, and agricultural infrastructure modernization. The Department also announced more than $72 million in new investments – including funding from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda – for ecosystem restoration and agricultural infrastructure modernization. 

With resources provided by President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the Bureau of Reclamation is also establishing a robust drought resilience program for basins experiencing long-term drought and the impacts of climate change – including throughout the Klamath Basin. In the coming months, Reclamation will announce significant additional funding throughout the region to facilitate multi-year planning and alignment of water supply and demand as well as to address critical infrastructure needs. Additionally, Reclamation is funding $2.9 million to the Klamath Tribes, Yurok Tribe, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Karuk Tribe, and Modoc Nation for projects that restore watersheds and revitalize water infrastructure.  

Klamath Tribes Chairman Clayton Dumont, Secretary Roberta Frost, and Ambodat Director Mark Buettner were actively involved with the department to address concerns and funds needed to begin the extensive projects necessary to restore the Klamath Basin ecosystem. “We’ve been talking to the Department of Interior about the need for ecosystem restoration for decades,” said Dumont. “It just so happens that funding is available this year.”

Buettner said the funding package would support Klamath Falls National Fish Hatchery, which is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-operated facility focused on preventing the extinction of the c’waam and koptu in Upper Klamath Lake. “The Tribes are also receiving funding to support a sucker-rearing program to avoid the extinction of these species,” he said. “This is a stopgap measure as we continue to restore water quality and habitat in Upper Klamath Lake and move towards a healthier ecosystem that will support sucker survival and recruitment, eventually leading to harvestable numbers of c’waam and koptu.”

Buettner added that the investment will fully fund the completion of the Klamath Falls National Fish Hatchery by 2027, and $64 million has been allocated for regional ecosystem repair. He said $1 million would be allocated annually over a five-year period to support the Ambodat c’waam and koptu rearing program.

Dumont highlighted where some of the funding will be distributed to the Tribes, stating that $2 million will be used for the Upper Williamson River restoration, which will be focused on the Klamath Marsh. On March 18th, The Federal Bureau of Reclamation announced an additional $700,000 for this work, bringing the total to $2.7 million. There’s $922,459 for the Klamath Tribes to do restoration work in the Bootleg Fire scar.

“We aren’t directly receiving the $4 million for the Barnes Agency wetland restoration, but that’s something that we have fought really, really hard to have put back in place,” Dumont said. “There’s also $1.8 million for habitat improvement down on what used to be Lower Klamath Lake, reconnecting the Klamath River to the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, and we’re partners with the Klamath Drainage District for the feasibility study to happen down there; that’s something that we’d like to see happen.”

Buettner said the $922,459 funding will also allow the Ambodat Department to support eight tribal members who are part of the department’s stream restoration team. “The intent is that there will be annual funding to support that crew, which has, over the last two years, done some major restoration work in the tributaries above Upper Klamath Lake. So that’s been very exciting, and good progress is being made,” he said.

Although the $72 million allocated by the Department of the Interior is a significant infusion of funding for ecosystem restoration, Frost said much more is needed to completely restore the Upper Klamath Basin to what it once was during tribal times prior to agricultural development. “It’s not going to make a dent,” she said. “It’s more than we’ve gotten at one time in the past, but there’s lots of restoration to do. After 100 years of degradation, there’s a lot to do, and we’re going to continue working on it.”

“I think it’s restoration funding that we’ve been looking for, for decades,” she added, “and this is just a continuation of what the Tribes is about, restoring the homelands to what it was before in historic times.”

Buettner reiterated the need for the Tribes to be a major player in the ongoing restoration work of the Upper Klamath Basin. “That’s the Tribes’ homeland, and there’s interest and passion by the tribal community to support this restoration effort and want to be a major player in accomplishing that both on federal Forest Service lands and some of the private lands that are in their former homeland.”

Dumont said more federal funding for restoration work is expected in the coming years. In addition to the Ambodat work, he said the Tribes Natural Resources Department Director will oversee upland forest-related projects to address water quality and quantity issues.

Frost said she doesn’t want to downplay the federal funding received by the Department of the Interior and what the Tribes have accomplished with the investment of federal funds to restore the Upper Klamath Basin. “You know, we’ve hit brick walls with other administrations, so we’re happy about them looking at the Klamath Basin and providing this much funding,” she said.

Dumont said this federal funding came after a lengthy process of many meetings over the years with the federal government, and both Buettner and Frost were involved in these meetings. “A lot of these meetings were very intense, and just people unloading anger,” he said. “Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Strickler has done a really, really good job of managing all of that and getting us to the point where we’re sitting down and talking about where the most bang for the buck in terms of restoration dollars is and where those resources should be spent. So, I agree with the Secretary. I don’t want to downplay that part of the accomplishment. I just don’t want our members to think that the agreement is more than it is.”

The following is a list of projects and funding amounts of the Dept. of the Interior’s $72 million investment:

Klamath Basin “Co-Development” Process

$25 million

New Project(s)

Funds would be made available for the development of restoration projects in the Klamath Basin that will help resolve ongoing water-related conflicts.  Projects that are developed will be Project proposals that are developed in this process and will also be reviewed by the Service and Department of the Interior officials who help oversee Klamath Basin Restoration initiatives. The following are projects planned and the funding allocated:

Klamath Falls National Fish Hatchery Expansion

$20 million

The Klamath Falls National Fish Hatchery investment will increase rearing capacity and help prevent the extinction of two federally listed species found only in the Klamath Basin, the Lost River and shortnose suckers (c’waam and koptu).

Sprague River Collaborative Restoration

$6 million

New Project   

Partners – Upper Klamath Basin Agriculture Collaborative, The Klamath Tribes, Sustainable Northwest, Klamath Watershed Partnership, Trout Unlimited, Soil and Water Conservation District, Intermountain West Joint Venture, Oregon Agricultural Trust, and Resource Environmental Solutions (RES)

This projectwill provide instream and floodplain restoration along 26 miles of headwater streams in the Sprague River Watershed, develop cost-level design plans and baseline monitoring for instream and floodplain restoration of the mainstem Sprague River, and develop a landowner incentive program to encourage landowner participation in restoration programs and retain economic viability for family farms and ranches. The Sprague River Collaborative Restoration Project emphasizes a commitment to voluntary, incentive-based approaches and identifies the critical role of Tribal and working lands to ecosystem restoration.  This project also stresses the importance of supporting Indigenous knowledge and sovereignty and landowners’ interests and rights with the support of federal, state, and local conservation programs. 

Ecological Restoration of the Blue Creek Salmon Sanctuary Project

$3 million       

New Project   

Partner – Yurok Tribe

This project will focus on stream enhancement roadway and stream crossing improvement and decommission. It will also focus on brush reduction and the development of the Blue Creek Sanctuary Riparian Stewardship Plan. These restoration activities within the Blue Creek Sanctuary and adjacent conservation areas promote recovery and sustainability of native fish and wildlife populations, increase ecosystem health and resiliency in support of native species, and support Yurok cultural lifeways.

Upper Williamson River Restoration

$2 million       

New Project

Partner – Klamath Tribes

Funding will be used for restoring the historical hydrology within the Klamath Marsh through the removal of TPC, Middle, and House bridges and the restoration of roughened channels. Additionally, the Cholo Diversion will be demolished and replaced with a horizontal flat plate screen and headgate structure. These restorative efforts will improve the habitat for resident fish, wildlife, and migratory species and remove barriers to fish passage.

Climate Change Resiliency Stream Restoration


Partner – Klamath Tribes

Funding will be used for stream habitat restoration within the Bootleg Fire Area. An assessment of stream conditions and identification of necessary restoration throughout the Klamath Tribes Treaty Boundary area will commence with an emphasis on the ability to address entire watersheds and focus on the most impaired based on deviations from the Tribes’ determined claims. Approximately 300 in-stream structures and five miles of riparian fencing will be installed. 

Klamath Basin Fisheries Collaborative: Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) Tag Monitoring and Database Project


Partners – Pacific States Marine Fisheries, Karuk Tribe, Klamath Tribes, and the Yurok Tribe

The PIT Tag coalition is a collaborative effort to develop a basin-wide fish tracking infrastructure to monitor the success of restoration efforts in the Klamath Basin. A comprehensive PIT infrastructure and integrated upper and lower basin database have been identified as a basin-wide priority. This project integrates scientifically rigorous localized research to create a data network capable of addressing questions at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Data collection will focus on spring and fall Chinook salmon and endangered suckers but may include nearly all migratory fishes in the Klamath Basin. This data will be critical for analysis used to inform potential future downlisting or delisting of ESA-listed species. Data will provide the ability to track the relationship between juveniles and returning spawners.

Supply Creek Levy Setback and Floodplain Restoration

$1.5 million

New project

Partner – Hoopa Valley Tribe

After the 1964 flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed high, artificial levees on both banks of Supply Creek. These berms disconnected Supply Creek from its former floodplain, impacting salmonid habitat. This implementation-ready project will reestablish a more complex and naturally functioning stream corridor with a restored riparian overstory by restoring the floodplain and removing the constructed levees to reconnect Supply Creek with its formerly occupied floodplain. This project will result in immediate short-term habitat creation and support long-term natural physical and biological stream processes by the construction of an off-channel pond, wetlands, benches, and side channel areas. The proposed project addresses recommended state and federal recovery actions by removing channelization and levees to reconnect the channel to a restored floodplain, increasing short-and long-term large wood loading, implementing riparian revegetation, and creating off-channel side channels and ponds for coho refugia. Additionally, this project will also remove a dilapidated septic system and leach field installed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs adjacent to Supply Creek in the aftermath of the 1964 flood.

Mid-Klamath Coho Salmon Spawner Survey Project


New project

Partner – Karuk Tribe

Funding will focus on maintaining and expanding the understanding of Coho Salmon population distribution and habitat utilization and examining restoration effectiveness to support well-informed management decisions and restoration actions. These monitoring efforts are needed to make sound management decisions regarding Coho within the Klamath Basin, especially in consideration of dam removals and their potential downriver effects.

Spring-run Chinook Salmon Life Cycle Monitoring Program


New Project   

Partner – Karuk Tribe

Funding will support a collaborative five-year program to improve our understanding of spring Chinook distribution, habitat use, and population trends by life stage and examine restoration effectiveness. This will support well-informed management decisions and restoration actions and engage the local community in conservation activities.

Upper Horse Creek Valley Channel Restoration Project


New Project   

Partner – Mid Klamath Watershed Council

Funding will be used for the restoration of the Upper Horse Creek Valley Channel. The project will create 1,500 feet of a new channel with increased sinuosity, side channels, off-channel ponds, and 37 Beaver Dam Analogues to 0.75 miles of Horse Creek and 6.5 acres of adjacent riparian area. These efforts will benefit Chinook and Coho salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and other aquatic species by increasing spawning and rearing habitat, which remain a limiting factor to the survival and growth of these species.

QVIR Scott River Basin Data Collection Project


New Project

Partner – Quartz Valley Indian Reservation     

Funds for this project will establish a comprehensive network of up to 30 discharge (instream flow) stations, both telemetered and continuous. Each tributary has different qualities for fisheries needs, and the data from the discharge stations can capture flows at every level. The Scott River tributary’s water inputs, especially above diversions, will increase the accuracy when estimating the water budget for regulation purposes. This data will inform water and fisheries management along with several watershed projects currently underway.

Waukell and Junior Creeks Culvert Replacements Project

$1 million       

Partner – Resighini Rancheria

Funds for this project will replace two undersized culverts, elevate roadways, remove invasive species, and plant native vegetation. The proposed culvert design sought to maintain the positive existing tailwater condition for fish passage while increasing the ability to pass high flows. Additionally, a portion of the existing culvert area on Junior Creek will be converted to an open channel and revegetated with native riparian vegetation. This culvert replacement project will facilitate the expansion of available habitat and increase connectivity while providing multiple ecosystem benefits in the Junior Creek watershed. Also, once completed, this project will improve the Tribal community’s resilience to flooding and climate change impacts.

Infrastructure projects from other FWS funding sources:

Barnes Agency Wetland Restoration

$4 million

New project

Partners – Barnes and Agency Units of Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge 

Funds will be used to initiate wetland restoration activities within the Barnes and Agency Units of Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Interior levees will be removed, and fish refugia areas and migratory bird habitats will be constructed in preparation for levee breaching in late 2024. The Barnes and Agency project is one of the largest wetland restoration projects in the U.S. and will result in the restoration of valuable lake fringe wetlands on Upper Klamath Lake, benefitting a multitude of fish and wildlife species, increasing water storage, and providing enhanced public use opportunities.

Development of a Water and Habitat Improvement Plan for Lower Klamath Lake

$1.8 million

New project

Partners – Klamath Drainage District (KDD), Yurok Tribe, Klamath Tribes, and other interested parties

This funding will be used by the Klamath Drainage District (KDD), the Yurok Tribe, the Klamath Tribes, and other project partners to assess feasibility and develop a conceptual plan to reconnect and restore wetlands in the KDD/Lower Klamath NWR area to create multiple, interconnected benefits for wildlife and farms.  The plan aims to increase habitat quantity and quality for aquatic species, migratory waterfowl, water birds, and birds of prey. Components of the plan will also describe strategies for improving hydrologic connectivity between ground and surface waters and offer ideas on how best to modernize irrigation delivery systems to promote wetland conservation and resilient agriculture communities in the face of drought and climate change. This plan will also seek to describe conservation incentives for participating landowners.

Conservation and Restoration Project Database and Interactive Map


New project

Partners (TBD)

Funding will be used to develop a conservation and restoration project database and interactive map. The Service will engage Klamath Basin conservation partners in the coming year to develop this tool, which will help track conservation work in the Klamath Basin for the public and help to coordinate restoration efforts across the Basin. This tool may also provide access to important data sets that can help drive long-term restoration success and support science and research efforts.