Preparing for Climate Change in the Klamath Basin

Jessi Kershner
Posted on: 12/17/2010 - Updated on: 11/24/2021

Posted by

Jessica Hitt

Project Summary

Located across southern Oregon and northern California, the Klamath Basin consists of unique ecological areas and natural resources that provide important ecosystem services to the region. Climate change impacts, such as warmer air temperatures and decreases in water levels, are likely to significantly affect natural systems and resources of the Klamath Basin. The National Center for Conservation Science and Policy (now the Geos Institute), in collaboration with the University of Oregon’s Climate Leadership Initiative (CLI), led a series of workshops assessing the likely risks posed by climate change to human and natural systems in the Klamath Basin and recommended strategies to increase the capacity of these systems to resist and adapt to change.


The Klamath Basin encompasses three counties in southern Oregon—Klamath, Lake, and Jackson—and five counties in northern California—Del Norte, Humboldt, Modoc, and Siskiyou. The Basin drains approximately 15,571 square miles and includes Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River; nineteen large dams within the Basin provide hydropower, water storage, and irrigation diversions in the region. The Upper Klamath Basin, which lies upstream of Keno, Oregon, is predominantly a high desert ecosystem, while the Lower Basin is predominately made up of temperate rainforests and mixed conifer forests. Both the upper and lower basins support a wide variety of animal and plant species, including several unique and relict species. Agriculture (~20%) and forestry (~75%) dominate the Upper and Lower Basin, and at least seven Native American tribes depend on natural resources within Klamath Basin. Climate change impacts including warmer air temperature, drier summers, and decreases in soil moisture and water levels in lakes and rivers are likely to significantly affect the natural systems and resources of the Klamath Basin.

The Geos Institute and the CLI (a program of The Resource Innovation Group and associated with the Sustainability Institute at Willamette University) facilitated a process intended to advance the development of basin-wide planning for the risks and impacts associated with climate change. Their process helps local stakeholders assess regional climate change projections, identify likely impacts, and recommend strategies to prepare for and build resilience to potential impacts. In the Klamath Basin, the Geos Institute and CLI held a series of workshops with local stakeholders to identify probable climate change impacts to the natural, built, economic, human, and tribal systems of Klamath Basin. Local experts, leaders, and stakeholders developed a suite of strategies to prepare communities and natural resources for those changes.


The MAPSS Team at the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station downscaled model projections for temperature, precipitation, vegetation, wildfire, and other variables to locally-relevant scales. This data was then mapped and analyzed by scientists at the Geos Institute. The Geos Institute and the CLI presented these climate projections to local leaders and experts to assess the likely impacts of climate change on natural systems (aquatic and terrestrial species and habitats), built (infrastructure), economic (agriculture, forestry, business), human (health, education, emergency services), and tribal systems. Finally, recommendations were made for how to prepare for the impacts expected under climate change. The strategies and actions suggested are likely to increase the resistance and resilience of natural resources and local communities to climate change.

Outcomes and Conclusions

A number of strategies were recommended to prepare the natural, built, economic, human, and tribal systems for the impacts of climate change. These strategies are covered in detail in the report Preparing for Climate Change in the Klamath Basin. Climate change preparation recommendations for natural systems focused on aquatic and terrestrial factors, such as water quality and quantity, sediment, shifting streamflow patterns, groundwater-fed springs, range shifts, noxious and invasive plants, riparian areas, species loss, conservation priorities, forest management objectives, public education, and economic analysis of the value of the Basin’s ecosystem services.

Climate change preparation recommendations focused on:

  • Built systems (e.g., water, power, roads, rail, homes and building design)
  • Economic systems (e.g., economic health, agriculture, forestry, recreation and tourism, commercial and subsistence fishing, health care industry, education)
  • Human systems (e.g., shifts in human population, public health, social services, emergency management, vulnerable populations, public safety)
  • Tribal systems (e.g., communication, carbon credits and cap and trade, incentives, burning, traditional ecological knowledge)

The results of the workshops and final report were intended to be starting point for addressing climate change impacts in the Klamath Basin. Stakeholders and sectors across the Basin should work together to develop a regional, multi-sector climate preparation framework and strategies for implementation.

This project was part of a larger initiative aimed at developing integrated climate preparation plans and policies for the Upper Willamette, Rogue River, and Umatilla Basins. A common theme identified by all groups was the need for integrated, co-beneficial climate preparation plans and policies. There has not been a follow-up study or tracking of the implementation of climate change preparation recommendations conducted by the Geos Institute. In 2019, the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation alongside the State of California Department of Water Resources and the State of Oregon Water Resources Department published the Klamath River Basin Study. This study evaluated water supply and demand, collaborated with stakeholders in the region and evaluate potential adaptation strategies for the Basin.


Kershner, J. (2021). Preparing for Climate Change in the Klamath Basin [Case study on a project of the Geos Institute]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated September 2021)

Project Contacts

Position: Climate Change Scientist

Affiliated Organizations

The GEOS Institute is a nonprofit, science-based organization dedicated to helping both human and natural communities predict and prepare for a changing climate. To this end, the Geos Institute applies the best available science to natural resource conservation issues through its scientific publications and its ability to link respected scientists to decision makers.

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