River of Renewal examines the water and wildlife crisis in the Klamath Basin—a bioregion larger than nine of the fifty states. The communities that harvest food from the Klamath Basin—raising crops and cattle, catching salmon in the river and offshore—have all suffered due to the lack of enough water to serve the needs of irrigation and fisheries alike.
The crisis began in 2001 when the federal Bureau of Reclamation - responding to biologists' warnings that the over-allocation of Klamath water was endangering several species of fish - cut off irrigation water that farmers and ranchers had long depended on. Irrigators responded with a dramatic civil disobedience campaign: a bucket brigade that carried federally banned water for a mile along Klamath Fall's Main Street and into an irrigation canal. Their protest paid off during the election year of 2002. Circumventing the Endangered Species Act, Vice President Dick Cheney made sure that the farms and ranches within the federal Klamath Project got all the water they could use. That September, 80,000 spawning salmon died in the estuary. Also that year, more than 80% of the juvenile salmon died after reaching the mainstem of the Klamath River.
In the years since then, a remarkable conflict resolution and consensus building process gained influence among the communities of the Klamath Basin. Eventually, they found common ground, recognizing that economic revival could occur only if ecological vitality were restored. The Klamath River tribes' ethos of world renewal, or pikiawish, "fixing the world," now influences the entire Klamath Basin. The film shows leaders of different communities coming together to seek a way beyond economic stagnation, environmental disaster, and polarized politics.
The search for common ground became urgent with the collapse of commercial salmon fishing along 700 miles of the California-Oregon coast in 2006. That year also, the licenses for the Klamath River hydroelectric dams expired. Settlement talks about the future of the Klamath Basin, involving 26 organizations, led to a consensus on dam removal in 2008. Later that year, the dams' owner, PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire-Hathaway, signed an agreement in principle with the governors of California and Oregon and the Secretary of the Interior to remove all four of the hydroelectric dams on the Klamath. The greatest dam removal project in American history is in the works. River of Renewal brings this issue to the nation's attention with the intent that the Klamath Basin crisis culminates in the restoration of a once great river system and the return of wild salmon in abundance to the West Coast.
To learn more about the filmmakers, please visit the filmmaker bios page.