Water cutoff looms over Basin
Officials scrambling to avoid shutdown of Klamath
By TODD KEPPLE
published July 3, 2003
Herald and News: Klamath Falls, Oregon
Farmers in the Klamath Reclamation Project faced new
threats of a water cutoff this week as federal
officials warned the water level in Upper Klamath
Lake is falling too fast to meet requirements of a
plan for protecting endangered suckers.
Federal officials met this morning to consider ways
to avert a shutdown of most of the Klamath
Reclamation Project, but no conclusion was an-nounced
by press time.
"We're continuing to work toward some resolution
where we can work things out," said Jeff McCracken,
spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation.
Among the options being considered was changing the
classification of the current water season from
"below average" to "dry." Doing so would ease the
legal requirements for protecting suckers, but
create uncertainty over legal issues.
Project irrigators who rely on Upper Klamath Lake
were told Wednesday that, under current conditions,
they must immediately cut their use of water by a
third, or face a complete shutdown of the project
later in the month.
Farmers responded by saying there is no practical
way to reduce water use by a third now that summer
irrigation is at its peak.
"This is production agriculture. You can't just shut
off a potato field," said Bob Gasser, a chemical
dealer who works closely with farmers. "If you miss
an irrigation by three or four days, you can lose
half the value of the crop."
About 180,000 acres of land in the Klamath Project
relies primarily on Upper Klamath Lake as an
irrigation reservoir. The acreage includes some of
the region's most fertile lands, as well as hundreds
of small farms and suburban parcels.
The news of a looming water cutoff was delivered to
farmers Wednesday during a hastily planned meeting
among government officials, irrigators, Indian
tribes and political leaders. The meeting, which was
not announced to the media or the public, was held
at the Shilo Inn in Klamath Falls.
Steve Thompson, regional director of the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, presided. About 50 people
During the meeting, a chart was distributed showing
how much farmers must curtail their water use in
order to stretch dwindling supplies last through the
month. That chart indicated water supplies could
last through the month if water use is cut by
roughly a third beginning Friday.
If demand is not reduced, that farmers' share of
remaining water would run out well before the end of
July, the chart indicated.
Driving the need to conserve water is a minimum
water level established to protect endangered
shortnose and Lost River suckers in Upper Klamath
Lake. A federal plan for protecting the fish calls
for a minimum lake level of 4,140.70 on July 31.
Irrigation diversions from the lake and from the
Klamath River were estimated this week at 1,580
cubic feet per second. At that rate, farmers would
receive about 3,100 acre-feet, or 1 billion gallons
The reduction called for Wednesday would reduce the
diversion to 1,060 cfs, or 683 million gallons per
After Wednesday's meeting, Thompson said he was
hopeful a solution would be reached, though he said
there is little time.
"I feel good that we got the major issues aired out,
and we got some good ideas from people in the room,"
said Thompson, whose office is in Sacramento. "I'm
very concerned that we won't be able to move fast
enough to make a difference."
Among the options being considered is additional use
of wells to boost water supplies, and providing
financial incentives for farmers to reduce their
water use, Thompson said.
City Editor Todd Kepple can be reached at 885-4422,
(800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at
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