A historic drought in the West is leading to major water crises along the Oregon-California border and for the Colorado River system that supplies water to more than 40 million people in seven Western states and Mexico.
Farmers are even threatening violence at Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon’s largest. They are facing financial ruin after federal officials shut down dam gates that allow water to flow from the lake. Farmers have relied on that water to irrigate their fields since 1907. Some are threatening to breach the fence that surrounds the dam and force open the gates.
Federal officials took action because the lake’s level is so low that salmon have been dying en masse. The survival of all the lake’s fish is endangered.
The Klamath Tribes support the federal move because they want the lake’s waters and fish protected. In 1864, the Klamath Tribes signed a treaty surrendering 22 million acres to the US in exchange for a reservation on the lake and perpetual rights to fish there.
In neighboring Nevada, the water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell have also dropped drastically. The two main reservoirs on the Colorado River are barely over one third capacity.
The government forecasts that water levels will continue to decline. That could lead to the first-ever shortage declaration for the Colorado River. Millions of people could see their water deliveries cut next year.