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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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April 11, 2020

From (Tulelake farmer)
Tulelake, California

To Bureau of Reclamation
6600 Washburn Way
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603

Attn: Tara Jane Campbell Miranda

Implementation of Klamath Project Operating Procedures 2020-2023
Draft at https://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_project_details.php?Project_ID=42926

Dear Ms Miranda,

Ten days does not give us enough time to fully address your entire plan during the first week of farming, during a pandemic.

Here is the Klamath River Compact list of priorities for water in the Klamath Reclamation Project. This Compact was ratified by Congress:

“1. In granting permits to appropriate waters under this subdivision B, as among conflicting applications to appropriate when there is insufficient water to satisfy all such applications, each state shall give preference to applications for a higher use over applications for a lower use in accordance with the following order of uses:
(a) Domestic use,
(b) Irrigation use,
(c) Recreational use, including use for fish and wildlife,
(d) Industrial use,
(e) Generation of hydroelectric power,
(f) Such other uses as are recognized under the laws of the state involved.
The United States shall not, without payment of just compensation, impair any rights to the use of water for use (a) or (b) within the Upper Klamath River Basin by the exercise of any powers or rights to use or control water (i) for any purpose whatsoever outside the Klamath River Basin by diversions in California or (ii) for any purpose whatsoever within the Klamath River Basin other than use (a) or (b)…”

Your agency has changed the priorities of the Klamath Project to:
1 The ESA
2 Klamath Basin Indian tribes’ trust status and water right interests
3 Project contract water users and/or water rights beneficiaries
4 The Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges

However, in reading your report ,apparently you have elevated the needs of the refuges above farms.

My parents have a deed signed by a United States President deeding them water appurtenant to their homestead.

Your entire plan downsizes agriculture not acknowledging the domestic and irrigation legal priorities of Project water. And your reasons for acquiring our stored water are for whales, salmon, suckers, tribal ceremonies, and always-changing requirements of lake levels and river flows and pulses.

After your 2001 water shutoff to Klamath irrigators, the National Research Council concluded that lake level and river flow management were unjustified. Your operation plan seeks to justify massive acquisition of water from the Klamath Project for lake level and river flow management, and more for refuges. You state that as recent as 2019 the Biops concluded that Klamath Project was not likely to jeopardize salmon, killer whales and suckers or destroy or adversely modify their critical habitat. But now, all at once, you determine for the next three years, the suckers and salmon MIGHT benefit from much of our stored water. You have certain months we are forbidden to store water. Your plan states “…while the Project Supply can’t decrease below April 1 allocation unless enhanced May/June flows are triggered in May…”  So, there is no water certainty there for irrigators while there are many other pretenses of certainty throughout your plan. 

Besides the “additional” 40,000 AF of Project irrigation water for EWA, “In drought years, when such a water acquisition program is implemented, and Project Supply is acquired for fish and wildlife purposes, it would reduce the amount Project Supply available for irrigation use.”

P 98: “increased flows as a result of the proposed 40,000 AF of EWA augmentation and enhanced May/June provision would likely improve simulated achievement of the 80 percent WUA.”

P 98 “ The Proposed Action Alternative provides for implementation of surface flushing flow events in 95 percent of years simulated within the POR, which should provide reductions in coho and Chinook salmon disease risk and mortality from C. shasta. The Proposed Action Alternative allows for flexibility in the use of 40,000 AF between the months of March through June. Maintaining higher flows during this period (April – June), which coincides with smolt outmigration, may dilute C. shasta spore concentrations and reduce water temperatures, thereby potentially reducing the POI and mortality for coho and Chinook salmon

P104 “Based on current available science utilizing 80 percent WUA as a conservation standard, increased flows as a result of the implementation of the 40,000 AF of EWA augmentation under the Proposed Action Alternative paired with the enhanced May/June provision included in the 2018 modified Operation Plan would likely improve rearing and outmigration conditions for Environmental Assessment - Klamath Project Operating Procedures 2020-2023 Section 4 Environmental Consequences 105 juvenile coho and Chinook salmon”

P105 “the additional volume of EWA augmentation included under the Proposed Action Alternative could potentially reduce water temperatures”

P105 “The Proposed Action Alternative includes a potential increase in river flows depending on hydrological conditions in a given year, which may improve the cumulative flow in the lower Klamath River from late winter through spring.”

P106 Green Sturgeon The Proposed Action Alternative includes a potential increase in river flows depending on hydrological conditions in a given year, which may improve the cumulative flow in the lower Klamath River estuary during spring and summer..”

P 106 Killer Whale, “the additional volume of EWA augmentation has the potential to reduce Klamath River spring water temperatures, increase habitat availability and further reduce POI, in salmonids…”

P107 “Modest beneficial impacts on survival of coho and Chinook salmon (a seasonal food source for SRKW), as a result the Proposed Action Alternative is expected to have a beneficial impact on SRKW…”

P 80 “Unused Project Supply is not expected to be available for delivery to LKNWR in hydrologic years like 2020. This would result in inadequate water supplies for LKNWR absent any water (up to 25,000 AF) that would be acquired by Reclamation under the water acquisition component of the Proposed Action Alternative described in section 2.4.4.”

P 109 “Wet meadow habitat within the Agency-Barnes Unit (9,796 acres) is less dependent on water levels in UKL, being generally surrounded by dikes and is wetted due to the effect of sub-irrigation. A reduction of inundated wetlands could have negative effects on aquatic species (i.e., fish, waterfowl, and mammals) that utilize wetland and open water edge habitats for foraging.”

Buying Barnes Ranch in 2004-2005 was promoted as a "storage' silver bullet by the Bureau of Reclamation, however this scheme was another acquisition by US Fish and Wildlife, regardless of the detriment to water quality and regardless of the evaporation, and regardless of water temperature.  20 years ago, of nearly 150,000 acres above Upper Klamath Lake ag land previously irrigated by surface water, more than 97,000 were acquired primarily by USFWS and The Nature Conservancy.  Wetlands use twice as much water as irrigated ag lands.

As in the past, when water was diverted from the Klamath Project irrigation needs, irrigators had to pump excessive groundwater to irrigate their fields, which dried up dozens of nearby wells.

In the past, when irrigators were allowed all of their deeded water supply, the water was reused within the Project several times, the runoff went into the refuges to be reused, then down the river. Withholding it from the irrigators and diverting it directly onto the refuges and, or into the river bypassing the farms, deprives us of growing crops and threatens our ground water supply.

Before the Klamath Reclamation Project was built for irrigation, there were historically more than 20 feet of water on our fields. We live in a closed basin, so our water did not leave the basin except on extremely high water years. The river occasionally went dry…no water no fish. Historically the Bureau of Reclamation sent our runoff and excess water down the river to create affordable, green hydropower. Your proposed plans are to dewater much more of our cropland and fix every problem in the river, from Tribal boat dances to whales, to wanting more water in the bird refuges.

“Although the amount of additional water that could be delivered as a result of the water acquisition component of the Proposed Action Alternative is currently uncertain in 2020, the amount of water acquired could be up to 25,000 AF for the spring/summer period (March – November)…especially in dry years…” So, this Proposed Action Alternative takes 25,000 acre feet of our stored water for agriculture and puts more into the refuges, not only depriving the farmers and ranchers of that water, but evaporating twice as much water as ag land, while we must threaten our groundwater supply.

“Under the Proposed Action Alternative, shortages in Project surface water supply are estimated to occur in about 59 percent of years (23 of 39 years).”

The Klamath Fish and Wildlife Refuges encompass 186,181 acres of marsh, croplands, uplands, grassland, forest and open water.  There are over 489 species of wildlife in the Klamath Basin. Here lies the largest concentration of waterfowl in North America. According to the California Waterfowl Association, the Klamath Basin farms provide over 50% of the feed for wildlife. You are gradually fallowing more and more of our ag land for more and more water for the refuges.

P 124  “The Proposed Action Alternative would not alter Klamath River water availability for the Yurok Tribe’s Ceremonial Boat Dance..”

The promises I see in your plan are to the Tribes, one of them being: “would not alter…” The only promises in your plan to the irrigators are, we WILL take your water and fallow your fields, and it might, could, potentially, likely, expected, may, help the fish, whales, etc.

Here is another promise to irrigators: “Regarding environmental justice implications consistent with Executive Order 12898 “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” under both alternatives some involuntary land fallowing of productive irrigable land within the Proposed Action Alternative area would occur leading to an increased risk to local rural agricultural communities.”  Your plan does not say how many more low income farm workers, which comprise the majority of the Klamath Project residents, will be without jobs they have held for many decades.

P 126 Your bottom line is, “During the three-year period of the Proposed Action Alternative, the cumulative impacts are likely to be minor, as sucker recovery, coho enhancement, and changes to the biological resources would require a much longer time frame to be implemented and their effects are speculative beyond the period of analysis.”

What you said is, in your proposed plan, taking this much of our stored water will likely only have a minor impact on sucker recovery and coho enhancement. As you stated above, after 3 years the dams will be out. So many farmers and farm workers will be out of business from the “involuntary land idling,”, and you will create a new plan. With no dams there will be no stored water in the dam reservoirs, no Klamath River hatcheries, no communities or ecosystems left near the dam lakes, no way to control the river flows, and with all your new water priorities with irrigators at the bottom, no water except what might be left for Klamath irrigators. And it will likely be presented to us with 10 days to respond the week before Easter when all the farmers are beginning to farm, like you did with this plan.

In summary, I do not support your proposed plan. Downsizing agriculture and water acquisitions do not make sense, especially now when you acknowledge that these three years, the cumulative impacts “are likely to be minor” to the species. 

Tulelake farmer



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