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Important to avoid appearance of waste

Published March 9, 2005

A few years ago, a news story about irrigation water landing on Klamath County roads developed into yet another bit of nastiness between upper and lower Klamath Basin water users.

It led to the claim by people on the lower Klamath River that farmers on the Klamath Reclamation Project were being profligate with scarce water, and that fish in the river's lower reaches were suffering because of it.

It didn't matter much that the amount of water involved was unlikely to have been anything more than a theoretical addition to the water going downriver, or that it was unproven that there would have been any benefit at all to the fish in the California stretch of the Klamath in adding warm water from the Upper Basin in any amount. What mattered was the perception that water was being wasted. It played to a ready audience.

That episode comes to mind as the river and the people who depend on it appear headed for another summer of scarcity. Perceptions of wasting water, no matter how ill-founded, will only add to the emotions and accusations that are likely to follow. Thus, it's important than no such perceptions are allowed to grow.

Farmers deserve credit for the progress in recent years in irrigation efficiency. More water is going through pipes, which means less is being used through flood irrigation. That should mean more production per acre-foot of irrigation water.

Such things have to continue and farmers are the best watchdogs of their own water consumption. Keeping water off the roads and continuing to turn toward the most efficient delivery of water are important.

In 2002, our take on the "water on the road" controversy came down to this: "It's an Oregon road problem, not a California fish problem." That's still true today, but that doesn't mean that people on the lower river will be very understanding if some water from sprinklers hits Basin roads instead of crops.


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