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Regardless of 'Best Available Science', Bureau demands over 100,000 Acre Feet of Klamath Irrigation Water

Story by KBC, content approved by TID manager 2/18/05

Ken Lite, Oregon Water Resource Department, said regarding Sabo's statement to TID,  "Using our study for leverage doesn't make sense." They are two totally different issues. Lite said, "That's not a true statement."

It took place: Tulelake Irrigation District, TID, office
Date: February 14, 2005
What: The verdict, the ultimatum, from the Bureau of Reclamation, BOR,  to Klamath irrigators
   In 2001, the Bureau of Reclamation shut down the Klamath Irrigation Project. WHY? They said that the 'best available science' demanded that more water needed to go to the fish in Klamath Lake and the Klamath River.
   What did our government do about it? After devastating our community, economy, families, fields, and wildlife, the Department of the Interior, DOI, engaged the National Academy of Science to find out what happened and if the 'best available science' had been used.
   Low and behold, it was not the best available science. The Committee said that there had been sufficient science to evaluate, even in 2001, that lake-level/river-flow management was not justified.  The water shut-off was 'NOT JUSTIFIED.'
   The DOI, before these final results were out, didn't ask but rather told Klamath Water Users that they MUST form a water bank so, on low water years, there would not be another water shut-off like in 2001. Every week for a year, for hours at a time, these dedicated people met and deliberated on a plan that would work on low water years to keep the community whole. Most of these farmers and ranchers have a college education and have taken many agricultural courses. And they are the ones who live on the land, nurturing crops and animals, families, and wildlife, every day of their lives.
  Finally, a detailed waterbank plan was presented to the Interior Department. Were they  pleased? Did they read it? This plan was discarded and the Bureau of Reclamation made their own plan.
   According to the Bureau's 2005 waterbank description, "The waterbank is required by a 2002 NOAA Fisheries Biological Opinion on Klamath Project operations and is used to augment Klamath River flows to benefit threatened Coho Salmon."  http://www.usbr.gov/mp/kbao/pilot_water_bank/docs/2005_water_bank_2nd_application_letter.pdf
This plan disregards the latest court findings that the coho were illegally listed.
  Their plan promises to downsize the Klamath Project irrigation water by one third.
  This plan has no flexibility.
  This plan is currently demanding 100,000 acre feet of our stored irrigation water and our aquifer to go into Klamath Lake or the Klamath River regardless of water year type.  If the river is flooding, our water will still be taken. It is not only for low-water years
   This plan disregards the National Academy of Science final results that say lake-level/river-flow management are unjustified.
   This Biological Opinion was based on science by Dr Hardy, who was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Justice to go against the Klamath Irrigators in the adjudication process.  The lake levels and river flows are based on the highest recorded water year in history after the Project was built, making the demands unachievable. These artificially-elevated flows are higher than physically possible to achieve before the Klamath Project was built. The Klamath Project was paid for in full by Klamath Basin irrigators to reroute water to store for irrigation.
  By diverting this former lake into the Klamath River, artificially high water levels produce more water for the power companies to make power, and these levels prevent the river from going dry like it did before the Project was built.
   This waterbank, according to Ned Gates of Oregon Water Resource Department, is stressing our aquifer. Our aquifer is lowering five feet per year.  It takes a few years to recharge the water extraction of one year, but this continuous water extraction, year after year, is not allowing recharge time.
   As stated on the Bureau's website, "Reclamation is the largest wholesale water supplier and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States..." They are good at negotiating.
   This "voluntary" "opportunity" to sell our water, idle productive farmland, downsize Klamath Basin agriculture and economy, and deplete our aquifer went something like this at the Tulelake Irrigation District meeting this Monday.
   Dave Sabo, Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Area Manager, began the chat with a room full of farmers. He began by saying that he wants to isolate Coppock Bay, California well pumping and rely on ground idling. Ground idling is where one does not farm their fields, the fields fill with noxious weeds that blow all over the basin, and neighboring farmers must use more water to irrigate their fields.
     John Crawford, Project irrigator, said that we're trying to save the economics and well being of the Project. We know there's one idled acre too many that will break the back of the Project, but we don't know what that acre is.
    Sabo, "I have 100,000 Acre Feet required. 35,000 is the total groundwater pumping required."
   "I'd like to offer you (TID irrigators) and midbasin (land near Merrill, OR) $60/Acre Foot (AF). How much are you going to commit to buy? " It was not an 'opened bid.' It was an ultimatum.
   "If we pump more than reasonable, and if we don't get recharge, we may overtax the aquifer," stated Sabo.
    However Ned Gates, OWRD, has already stated that we are overtaxing the aquifer when we do not allow years for recharge. It takes a few years for the aquifer to recover from each year pumped.
   It has also been brought up that Fish and Wildlife Service has a 'C' rating on water use, so legally 'A' users get first water, 'B' are second, and the refuges are 'C'. But the way the Klamath Project was carefully designed, when all the fields get water, the runoff goes into the refuges and farms, and both stay whole.
   Currently, Fish and Wildlife is filling their refuges with water directly, not from the farms, so when they have to donate to this waterbank, they have taken their water off the top.
   Rather than an open bid process, this negotiation was more like a judge offering an innocent defendant a bonus if he plead guilty.  Irrigation Districts are in debt now because of the government agencies and environmental groups filing lawsuits against them. So the Bureau has essentially got the Districts by the throat. When the water districts try to hold out for the fair market price of water established previously, then Sabo said that the Bureau only has so much money, and there will be no money left this summer to pay pumpers. So districts must either agree to $60/AF, or there will be a shortage this summer of water and money.
   To further talk TID into settling for the low water rate, Sabo said, "The state wants 20,000 AF from midbasin....I want to work with the state. If Coppock sells 15,000 and TID 15, that's all I have, then the state can't finish their 5-year study on midbasin." He said midbasin would sell their water for $60, so if TID won't comply, then Sabo and the state would be happy to finish the 5-year study and only buy midbasin groundwater.
   Ned Gates, hydro geologist from OWRD, said that this claim was not true. He said, "We are not advocating that they pump there (midbasin). We are using the information for USGS groundwater studies." He said that they use this information for future knowledge to see if they should be issuing more groundwater permits. "I do not need midbasin to pump their wells.  I can see their recharge and I can study the California wells.  I was out there before the 2001 drought showed up.  They are two separate issues.  It's an apple and an orange.  I can go to another well not involved....We are a resource agency. I think that argument (Sabo's) is misplaced."
   Lead hydro geologist of the study team Ken Lite works for OWRD also.  He said, "Using our study for leverage doesn't make sense." They are two totally different issues. Regarding Sabo's statement to TID, Lite said, "That's not a true statement.  We told them (the Bureau) the further south, the better.  They told us they were going to get most  if not all their water from Coppock."
   "Our recommendation," Lite continued, "was to minimize interference with existing groundwater sources and surface water. We've made no other recommendation."
   We asked five other people present at TID what they heard Sabo say when trying to get TID to agree to pump at the lower rate, and they all heard Sabo tell the group that OWRD recommended midbasin to pump for their study. Perhaps someone else from OWRD came up with that recommendation, but the hydrogeologists sure hadn't ever heard anything like that and such recommendations had never before been their policy.
   When asked, what if there is a water shortage this summer, will the Project be shut down, Sabo said no, they will just allocate water. Evidently that means that some people will get shut down.
   When Hardy study and flows were brought up, Sabo said "Hardy has come up with silly, fictitious numbers in the river.  He said "The undepleted flow study says that in July and August sometimes there wasn't any water coming down the river."
   Sabo also said that the water bank has nothing to do with irrigating the Project.  It all goes to (scientifically unjustified) fish needs. So if the irrigators come up short of water, they are out of luck.  Then there will be no money to pay people to pump wells to provide water for the Klamath Basin crops.
   Last year, the water bank was supposed to take 75,000 AF of our stored water and aquifer. Sabo said that they sent 88,000 AF of our water downriver last year. 
   Some of the water demanded of irrigators is called tribal trust, which is a wild card. When the tribes demand our irrigation water, the Bureau gives it to them. And it has been water over and above the demanded waterbank water.
   So, what's next.  The court ruled that the coho were illegally listed. The NAS said lake-level/river-flow management was unjustified, The Chiloquin dam blocking 95 percent of sucker habitat is still being studied. There are tens of thousands more suckers in the lake than believed when they were listed. Dr. Hardy's science has been proven flawed, yet he has been rehired to invent more 'science.' And our government is demanding one third of our water, downsizing our agricultural economy, regardless of the best available science.  The misconception of more warm water to send down the Klamath River which is lethal to fish is creating the opportunity for the government agencies and eco-groups to get more money to purchase and 'restore' more ag land.  They have already purchased around 100,000 acres of Klamath Basin farmland to make into swamps to evaporate our precious water.
  Is anybody listening?




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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