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Fighting drought is Hollie Cannon’s No. 1 goal
by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 6/8/12
H&N photo by Joel Aschbrenner Hollie Cannon is the executive director
of the Klamath Water and Power Agency.
Hollie Cannon was the first employee hired by the Klamath Water and Power Agency, an organization founded in 2008 to represent and advocate for local irrigation districts.
In its first four years, the agency has dealt with two droughts and has begun developing a plan for how to divvy up water under the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, said Cannon, KWAPA’s executive director.
The KBRA and a related water settlement aim to remove four Klamath River dams, provide reliable water supplies and affordable power for irrigators, restore fish habitat, and acquire a 92,000-acre tree farm for the Klamath Tribes.
A Lakeview native, Cannon graduated from the Oregon Institute of Technology and spent 16 years managing irrigation districts in Lakeview and the Rogue Valley. He ran his own water rights consulting firm for nine years before joining KWAPA.
Cannon took time this week to answer questions about the agency and Klamath Basin agriculture.
How has it been preparing for this irrigation season?
“It’s been very trying this year because basically from mid-February on, every two weeks there has been a change,” in the water forecast, Cannon said.
The winter started dry, with basically no precipitation from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and left irrigators preparing for a severe drought.
March brought heavy precipitation and hope for irrigators. It looked like the season could be saved, Cannon said.
Warm weather in late April and May renewed irrigators’ concerns, as melting snowpack rushed off the mountains. Upper Klamath Lake couldn’t hold it all and valuable water had to be released down river.
This week’s rain and planned groundwater and land idling programs could provide enough mitigation so irrigators get the water they need, Cannon said.
What is your top priority?
Cannon said his No. 1 priority is implementing programs to help mitigate a drought this summer.
One program would pay irrigators to pump 40,000 acre-feet of groundwater in an effort to spare surface water for those who don’t have wells. The other would pay grain and forage farmers to give up water later in the growing season to spare water for those who grow row crops that require more water, like potatoes, onions and horseradish.
Both programs are funded by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Cannon’s second priority is developing the On-Project Plan, a program that spells out how Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators will share water under the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
What is the biggest concern for local irrigators?
“The most serious threat to agriculture is the cost of power,” Cannon said.
A 50-year agreement that gave irrigators a historically low power rate expired in 2006. Power rates have been rising since and will increase 50 percent before next April, when the rate will reach tariff, the standard power rate, Cannon said.
At the tariff rate, irrigators will pay nearly 20 times more for power than before 2006, he said.
The KBRA aims to secure more affordable power, primarily from the Bonneville Power Administration, Cannon said.
What changes could be in store for agriculture on the Project?
The future of the Project hinges largely on power rates, Cannon said.
If irrigators cannot secure affordable power, many could revert to flood irrigating, which requires less power but uses more water than sprinkler irrigation. And if that happens, there will be less water to go around and fewer irrigators will remain on the Project, he said.
If the KBRA is implemented, what will change for on- Project irrigators?
“If we are successful with the On-Project Plan, there will be hardly any change for the on-Project farmer,” Cannon said.
Under the KBRA, less water will be allocated to the Project, compared to the wettest years now, but irrigators will have the choice to participate in programs that pay them to conserve water. The programs could include groundwater pumping, water storage, conservation and efficiency and water demand management, Cannon said.
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Page Updated: Saturday June 09, 2012 02:26 AM Pacific
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