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When the wells run dry 


Some Basin residents had to take out loans to deepen their domestic water source 


by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 9/14/10


     In May, Susanne Schuette’s well — her home’s only water source — ran dry.


   Since water for the Enterprise Irrigation District, where she lives with her husband Clyde, would be shut off until mid-summer, she had no water to keep her small pastures green, water her livestock and maintain her gardens.      


   The couple decided to take out a loan to deepen their domestic well by 67 feet.


   “We were very frightened,” she said. “We were hardly using water at all until we could get the loan approved.”


   Digging the well and buying additional equipment so its pump could reach 257 feet below ground cost about $8,000, she said.


   Many of her neighbors near Highway 140 in the Henley area also saw their wells run dry this summer.  


   “It was definitely a hardship,” she said. “It was a hardship for all of us.”


   Dry wells common


   Residential well users say dry wells have become common this year.


   A Basin-wide drought forced many irrigators to rely on well water rather than water from lakes and rivers, which some say dropped the water table and put some homes’ wells out of commission.


   In early July, the water table near Merrill dropped below the city’s well pump, leaving residents briefly without water. The city had to drop its well pumps from 70 feet beneath the ground to 110 feet.


   Linda Lown, who owns Aqua Pump Co. with her husband, Dan, estimates business is up more than 20 percent this year, as more well users have needed to extend pumps deeper into their wells.


   Irrigators throughout the Basin have been digging new wells, deepening existing ones and pumping more water out of the ground this year, she said.  


   Relying on wells


   Mark Stuntebeck, executive director of the Klamath Irrigation District, agreed that more irrigators have relied on well water this year, as access to irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake has been limited.


   Bob Bunyard, owner of Klamath Pump Center, said his company has lowered well pumps for dozens of domestic well owners whose wells had run dry.


   Not since a drought hit the Basin in 2001 has he seen the water table drop below so many well pumps.


   “It’s kept us busy all summer,” he said.


   Schuette, who usually uses irrigation water for her three acres, where she raises llamas and goats for fleece, did not receive water from the irrigation district until July. She agreed that more water should have been made available earlier in the growing season.  


   Though they now have access to irrigation water, losing access to domestic water and deepening their well was costly for the retired couple on a fixed income.


   “It all worked out and now we have lots of water and we’re happy again, but it was a real strain on us to dig those wells,” she said.  

Side Bar
Couple spends $5,000 for a new well
   Aqua Pump installs and lowers well pumps in existing wells, but does not drill new wells, so owners Linda and Dan Lown had to call in another contractor when their 94-year-old well ran dry this summer.
   "This summer I turned on the spigot and there was nothing," Linda Lown said.
   "The couple spent more than $5,000 for their new 110-foot-deep well, which they use for domestic water.
   They own 82 acres in the Pioneer Improvement irrigation district near Keno and lease most of their land to local hay and alfalfa farmers.  Water users in the district did not receive irrigation water until late in the growing season.  Too late, Lown said.
   The Lowns usually receive water from the Klamath River to irrigate their fields.  Using well water to irrigate crops, Lown said, is not as effective as river water, which is warmer and has more nutrients.
   Lown questioned the Bureau of Reclamation's decision to limit the amount of irrigation water available to farmers early in the growing season.  By the time more irrigators had access to water, she said, it was too late in the growing season.
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