Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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State 'leases' water to help salmon
(Leasing-taking water from farms to pour down rivers is what they are doing in the Klamath Basin. 17,000 acres of Project farmland have already been idled via the water bank. A total of 60,000 acre-feet of environmental water this year will be generated through the water bank, including groundwater pumping. This is an effective way to smoothe a downsizing of farm land and the local economy without anyone noticing until it's too late and the neighbors are gone.KBC)
August 26, 2003
Seventeen farmers in the Dungeness River watershed near Sequim will forgo a fall crop of hay or alfalfa this year to provide extra water for salmon to migrate.
In return, the participating farmers will share about $244,000 -- ranging between $1,450 and $63,000, depending on how much land a farmer takes out of production.
The total land area removed from production is about 1,400 acres.
The idea of paying farmers not to take their legal quota of water is part of an aggressive effort to restore salmon and other fish on the Dungeness River -- one of the most diverse ecosystems in the state, officials say.
The Washington Department of Ecology is considering similar programs for 16 watersheds throughout Washington, including the Quilcene watershed on the Olympic Peninsula, according to Tom Fitzsimmons, the agency's director.
"We hope to replicate these types of projects across the state to help restore depleted stream flows," he said.
The Department of Ecology has approved three-year "leases" of water rights owned by farmers in the Dungeness River basin. The result will be an extra 10.2 cubic feet per second during the critical summer-flow period between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15.
"That doesn't sound like much water," said Curt Hart of Ecology, "but considering how dry it is this year in particular, this should make a big difference in some areas."
As of Monday, the total flow in the Dungeness River near Sequim was measured at 169 cubic feet per second, or 1,264 gallons per second. Upstream areas have lower flows.
The extra water could help salmon reach their spawning grounds and increase the amount of submerged gravel available for spawning, Hart said.
The Dungeness River is home to several important fish species, including chinook and summer chum, both listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, he noted. Other critical species include steelhead and bull trout.
A similar buy-back was tried as an emergency program on the Dungeness during the drought of 2001, but more farmers are aware of the effort this time around, Hart said.
"This approach seems to be fair and equitable for everyone concerned," said Gene Adolphsen, a farmer who is participating in the program. "It's a good use of public money that directly benefits farmers, fish and the environment."
Some farmers want to make sure their land stays in production, Hart said. Under this program, participants can irrigate until August, which gives them time to grow one crop.
The price paid to farmers was based on the appraised value of the crops they could have raised during the 45-day period.
In Eastern Washington, water rights in the Yakima River were purchased outright for $1.2 million. Negotiations are under way for water leases or purchases in the Walla Walla watershed.
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