Humboldt County Joins “Coalition of the Willing” Seeking a New Klamath Water Deal

by Felice Pace, North Group Water Chair


Supervisor Steve Madrone is representing Humboldt County on the Coalition of the Willing (COW), an initiative of the Trump Administration which aims to forge a new Klamath River Water Deal. Participants include main architects of the failed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) Water Agreement: Craig Tucker, the Yurok Tribe’s Mike Belchik, Glen Spain representing the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and Dan Keppen of the Family Farm Alliance, an agricultural lobby organization. It’s unclear who Tucker represents at the COW or if he is one of its paid “facilitators.”

I believe the current effort can only be understood by considering the context in which it arises: the failed KBRA Water Deal and the thirty-year effort to settle tribal water rights claims west-wide.

Since the late 1980s, both Democratic and Republican federal administrations have sought settlement of tribal water rights claims. Over 30 settlements have already been approved and funded by Congress and many more are in various stages of negotiation. 

While each settlement is unique, I believe the feds have not been fair brokers but rather have worked to keep most of the water with mostly white irrigators who hold junior water rights. The feds game plan uses the public relations techniques known as “coercive harmony” to get tribal representatives to agree to settlement terms that are not in the interest of their members, healthy streams and fisheries.   

A true solution to the Klamath River Basin’s water struggles will address flow needs basin wide including in the oft-dewatered Scott River. photo credit_ Felice Pace

While a just and balanced water settlement on the Klamath is possible, the essential elements of such an agreement are not being discussed. Those key elements are: 

  • A comprehensive flow assessment to identify the flows needed basin-wide to support healthy stream ecosystems and robust salmon populations. 
  • A basin-wide program to reduce water demand by purchasing and retiring surface water rights from willing sellers. 

Unless and until these elements are seriously considered, I will judge the Coalition of the Willing to be another ploy by the feds to get tribal leaders to compromise their people’s water rights. My advice to those who care about our rivers and fish: if they will not agree to water demand reduction and a basin-wide flow assessment, get out of there right now.  



URLs used in this article:

KBRA Water Deal :

Settle tribal water claims west-wide:

“coercive harmony”: