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June 9, 2020
Water Users React to Restored Project Allocation

Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) expressed appreciation for the Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) announcement today that irrigation water supplies from the Upper Klamath Lake / Klamath River system have not changed from the approximately 140,000 acre-feet announced in April.

“This is definitely a relief,” said KWUA President Tricial Hill.  “Even though available supplies will only meet about 40 percent of our true need, Project irrigators had planned and managed the best that they could, based upon the meager supply announced in April.  The possible reduction we heard about in May has created chaos and more uncertainty in an already-terrible year.”

Today’s announcement followed a month-long period of uncertainty when it appeared that supplies could be reduced to as low as 80,000 acre-feet.  Many local farmers and ranchers had relied upon the April 1 forecast and had already sunk investment in the ground, based on the earlier forecast of irrigation water supply that would be available.  Irrigators are relieved, but remain vigilant, and concerned. 

“The Project is still drastically short of water,” said Klamath Project Drought Response Agency (DRA) President Marc Staunton.  “We need more people to commit to our land idling program.  Irrigators also need to understand that today’s announcement does not provide any water for Warren Act contracts.”

Over recent decades, the Klamath Project has been subject to regulation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), with increasing requirements for maintaining Upper Klamath Lake elevations for endangered sucker species and Klamath River flows for any coho salmon in the Klamath River below Iron Gate Dam. 

“Facts don’t lie: this strategy isn’t helping the species,” said Klamath Irrigation District Board President Ty Kliewer.  “Meanwhile, water that was stored under an irrigation water right is being re-allocated to non-irrigation uses, such as flow augmentation.”

The Klamath Project’s demand for irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake this year is over 350,000 acre-feet.  Due to drought and federal operations constraints, the announced Project Supply based on an April 1 run-forecast was 140,000 acre-feet, roughly 40 percent of the need.  Under the applicable ESA biological opinions (BiOps), the April Project Supply cannot be reduced.  Still, during May, and based on updated runoff forecasts, there was concern that the Project Supply allocation could drop to only 80,000 acre-feet.  Farmers who had planned their operations based on the April allocation were suddenly at risk of their limited plantings drying up in the field.  The impacts on farm families and local communities could have been catastrophic. 

Fortunately, forecasted runoff conditions have improved over the past month.  In a statement released by Reclamation, Commissioner Brenda Burman stated that “although the project remains at a painful, record low allocation, I am pleased that the recent improvement in lake inflow allows Reclamation to stabilize water supplies for Klamath Project water users this year.”

Klamath Drainage District (KDD) President Jason Flowers said that his district and others can still adapt to the latest information.  “We will manage intensely and do our best,” he said.  “That is what we do.”

Still, local irrigation leaders emphasize that disaster relief assistance is sorely needed for the Project. 
“We are going to have the worst year ever, even with the confirmation of the Project Supply that we assumed in April,” said Tulelake Irrigation District Board President John Crawford.  “Our elected officials need to keep the community whole, especially the young farmers that have come back home to carry on the legacy of this basin.”

KWUA Executive Director Paul Simmons said that the Oregon and California congressional delegations are working aggressively to pursue funding avenues to support activities of the DRA.  “We have great bipartisan support and are working closely with the members,” he said.

The local irrigation community continues to emphasize that federal agencies must re-visit the current practice of reducing Klamath Project water deliveries as the primary means to protect ESA-listed species. 
“We will continue to push for changes in the regulatory approach and respect for state water rights and sound science,” said Mr. Kliewer.

Reclamation also intends to provide some further augmentation of Klamath River flows, over and above the minimum flows below Iron Gate Dam allowed under the applicable BiOps. 

“We have differences of opinion about Klamath River flows,” said KWUA board member Bob Gasser.  “But for now, we understand there will be a targeted and carefully managed flow augmentation that won’t further reduce the minor amount of water that we have.”

Between March and September, the amount of water released from Upper Klamath Lake for Klamath River flows will be over 400,000 acre-feet.  This is significantly more than will flow into Upper Klamath Lake during that same period, and nearly three times greater than the irrigation supply that will be available from Upper Klamath Lake.

Ms. Hill believes that the Trump Administration inherited a damaging regulatory and scientific approach to the Klamath Project that formed over recent decades but she expects improvement soon.  “I am optimistic that today’s decision-makers know there are problems and are committed to fix them very soon,” she said.  “In the meantime, we recognize that this is what Reclamation needs to do now.”  


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              Page Updated: Wednesday June 10, 2020 02:17 AM  Pacific

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