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Growth threatens water

H&N photo by Andrew Mariman
Greg Addington of the Klamath Water Users Association stands near Lower Klamath Lake and the mouth of the A Canal.

March 1, 2007 Herald and News

Add climate change and urbanization to the list of forces threatening to reduce agriculture's water supply.

Both were topics of concern last week during the Family Farm Alliance's annual meeting in Las Vegas.

“Urbanization and competition for water supplies are driving Western farmers off the land at a time when American food production in general is following other industries off-shore in search of lower costs,” Alliance President Patrick O'Toole said.

Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen of Klamath Falls said increasingly dry weather and population growth is affecting Klamath Basin farmers, too, although development isn't on pace with Colorado's Front Range. That state lost an average of 460 agriculture acres per day from 1987 to 2002, Keppen said.

He suggested an assessment be made of impacts to agricultural land and water in Western states during the past decade.

“A study of this sort may provide the type of hard findings that can help wake up policy makers to the big picture importance of this issue,” Keppen said.

More than 1,500 acres in Klamath Falls and Klamath County are being developed as subdivisions within the planning stages.

Keppen says that's more competition for already scarce water. Measure 37, which makes it easier to subdivide property, will only exacerbate the situation, he said.

Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said urbanization's effects don't show up immediately. But he said growth and its effects on the water table is one of many factors in water supply for irrigators.

Warmer weather

He noted the trend toward warmer weather, saying irrigators' primary storage of water is the mountain snowpack. That snow is melting earlier than in past years, Addington said, and precipitation more often comes as rain instead of snow.

Biological opinions dictating Upper Klamath Lake levels and flow rates for the Klamath River override everything. The opinions come from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Addington said irrigators are frustrated that the matrix gives them less water in average-water years than in low-water years.

“It's mind boggling,” he said. “You might as well throw darts at a wall.”

- Steve Kadel

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