Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Klamath farmers are frustrated, up against a wall
Liz Writes Life: Liz Bowen's Weekly Column in Siskiyou Daily News 4/20/21
< Upper Klamath Lake is nearly to the brim
Frustrations are mounting in our neighboring Klamath Basin regarding the huge reduction of irrigation water that the government decreed 1,200 farms will receive in the Klamath Project. Last week, the federal Bureau of Reclamation announced that the Klamath Project will receive about six percent of its needed irrigation water for more than 220,000 acres in the Project. Nope, not enough!
That hurts a lot of farmers and also means six wildlife refuges will lose water that gives life to 433 species, including ESA-listed bald eagles. Also, the Klamath Bureau of Reclamation announced it would not allow any irrigation until after May 15, 2021.
But, perennial plants and the soil need irrigation now. Crops raised in the Klamath Project provide a multi-million-dollar economy and include sugar beets, potatoes, onions, garlic, horseradish, wheat, barley, mint, pasture and hay.
Because of a dry winter and spring, farmers are up against the wall. After much discussion, the Klamath Drainage District decided to rely on a permit, acquired from the Oregon Water Resources Dept. in 1977, and opened the headgates of the North Canal and the Ady Canal -- last Friday.Please note: For decades, this supplemental water right that is obtained from the Klamath River has been treated as independent from “Project” water. And, recently, the OWRD determined that water is available at KDD’s headgates.
Scott White, general manager of KDD, said that drastically needed precipitation has not arrived and the dust is unbearable. Winds are devastatingly eroding the soil.
Within hours of opening the headgates, the federal Klamath Reclamation acting area manager, Jared Bottcher, sent a letter to KDD demanding an immediate cease to the water diversions. The statement said that if KDD does not stop irrigation, the federal employees will access Reclamation-owned property to close the gates; and that water users within the KDD boundary may no longer be eligible for Drought Relief Act funds. Also, the United States may take other legal action against KDD and its members.
So, the carrot has been dangled and the stick has been shook. But are there enough federal assistance funds to financially save the hundreds of farmers, who would much rather work for their income? Not likely.
The USDA recently announced the availability of up to $10 million in assistance from its Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program to help agricultural producers impacted by drought conditions in the Klamath Basin.
California District 1 Congressman, Doug LaMalfa, said the additional funds comes at a critical time and is appreciated. But, once again, reiterated that the Bureau of Reclamation is not delivering legally-owned water to the farmers.
LaMalfa added: “Much more remains to be done for our Klamath Basin farmers, ranchers, and wildlife refuges, and helping them continues to be one of my top priorities in Congress.”
Klamath Project farmers own their property and through their deeds own the rights to water that has been stored in Upper Klamath Lake and other areas with the purpose of seasonal irrigation. It is the Bureau of Reclamation that manages the infrastructure and releases the water. In the past 25 years, Tribes have demanded more of the farmers’ water for sucker fish listed to the Endangered Species Act. But, as LaMalfa referenced, recent court decisions state the farmers do have the right to water from these man-made or man-enhanced storage areas.
There is a myth that I wish to dispel. You see, there is plenty of water in the Upper Klamath Lake. A recent photo, sent to me by a friend, shows it is to the brim. The lower-elevation-part of the water is designated for the suckers, but a legal portion is decreed to the farmers.
So, why isn’t the federal government following the court order and releasing the farmers’ water? Upper Klamath Lake is huge at about 25 miles long and eight miles wide.
Another myth proven wrong, time and again by Ph. D scientists, is that ironically more water does not increase the population of sucker fish. The truth is that the suckers actually do better in less water and like to live at the muddy bottom of lakes and reservoirs. Believe it or not, the suckers and the farmers can and should be able to share the water. Unfortunately, this drought is exaggerated by what looks like anti-farmer bias of the Bureau of Reclamation.
The soil is so dry at my place that I am irrigating the few garden plants every two to three days. The 25 garlic are 10-inches high, some volunteer lettuces are up to five-inches, newly transplanted chives look OK and the comfrey is bushing out and a foot tall. The rhubarb didn’t start growing until I began irrigating consistently a month ago. It looks great at three-feet tall, so I should be able to start harvesting in a week or two. Rhubarb needs lots of water!
I see some asparagus are finally poking-up several inches. I only have five plants. I found the chocolate mint is spreading well after I pulled out weeds that were covering it. Last year, I harvested the chocolate mint for the first time and I love it as a tea. It is much stronger than the wild mint I have been using for years. The chocolate is more in the aroma than in the actual taste.
The perennials like columbine, tansy, Oriental poppies, iris, hollyhocks, red bee balm, day lilies and Shasta daisies seem to always be thirsty and where I have irrigated, several gladiolus are spiking up. Can’t believe the weather stations are claiming the temps will be so warm that it shouldn’t freeze at night this week. No wonder things are dry.
Parting thought: Peace may be hard to find, but we must seek for it – especially for our hearts and minds. Smile – just cuz it will make you feel better!
Liz Bowen began writing ranch and farm news, published in newspapers, in 1976. She is a native of Siskiyou County and lives near Callahan. Columns from the past can be found at: lizwriteslife.blogspot.com. Call her at 530-467-3515.
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Page Updated: Tuesday April 27, 2021 11:36 AM Pacific
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