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Klamath Water Users' President Resigns Amid Drought, Lawsuits

Klamath Water Users Association

After just two years on the job, Klamath Water Users Association president Scott White is stepping down.

The group represents irrigators’ interests in the Klamath Basin along the Oregon-California border.

Before joining the association in 2016, White was the Oregon official in charge of enforcing water rights in the basin.

During his tenure, the basin has faced water shortages and lawsuits between the interests of ranchers, farmers, and endangered fish. 

He says maneuvering through the different jurisdictions is “extremely complex.”

“You've got a federal reclamation project,” White said. “You’ve got state water rights. You’ve got a state border between Oregon and California. California does have Oregon state water rights that were adjudicated."

Scott White

On top of that, local tribes and conservation groups have fought for water use that preserves endangered fish species. There are two federally listed species in Upper Klamath Lake and another species in the Klamath River.  

But the basin’s biggest challenge is the lack of water.

“This basin is just plagued with drought and it has been for a number of years,” White said. “Ultimately, I think there’s enough water to go around. I just think people have a different mindset on what that water should be used for.”

He says farmers, ranchers, and tribes were working well together for a while. But a couple of years ago,  after efforts to fund a federal solution failed in Congress, stakeholders started resorting to litigation, and his job got a lot more stressful.

“It just really took its toll,” he said. “And I just needed to step back and think about what’s most important in my life and that’s my family.”

White’s last day is Nov. 30. The association’s general counsel will step in as a temporary president while it seeks a new one.

As for White, he says he doesn’t know what’s next for his career. He plans to take a few weeks off to decompress.


April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.