Klamath Water Users Association
Sep 20, 2002
Project Water Bank Proposal
One year after water supplies from Upper Klamath Lake were cut off and the future of the Klamath Project was clouded with uncertainty, local water users and producers have been called upon to develop a program intended to avoid a reoccurrence of the 2001 water crisis. Since July, weekly meetings at the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) have resumed to develop a locally driven environmental water bank assessment and proposal for the Klamath Project. Local water users committed to pursue this endeavor at the request of U.S. Interior Department Assistant Secretary Raley and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) Commissioner Keys last January.
Reclamation’s Water Bank Proposal
Reclamation’s 10-year Biological Assessment (BA) developed last February proposes an environmental water bank through which willing buyers and sellers will provide additional water supplies for fish and wildlife purposes and to enhance tribal trust resources. Reclamation’s BA estimates the size of the water bank to be up to 100,000 acre feet – depending on water year type - with “deposits” to the “bank” coming from a variety of sources, including off-stream storage, temporary irrigation demand reduction, and groundwater.
The Water Bank and Supply Enhancement Committee of the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) initially developed principles and a draft implementation framework for the water bank in March of this year. At that time, it was mutually agreed between Reclamation officials and local water users that further progress could not be made on the framework until the biological opinions for long-term Klamath Project operations were completed by federal fisheries agencies. Those opinions were delayed and never finalized and responded to until early June. In mid-July, the water bank committee resumed its meetings and plan to have a water bank proposal completed by mid-November.
Water Users Vision for the Bank
Certainty of water supplies is a key principle imbedded in this draft effort. Local water users insist that, in exchange for voluntary participation in a Project water bank – which would be used to “fund” environmental water needs - 100% of the irrigation demand for remaining Project acreage will be satisfied, season-long. This effort will also seek to develop mechanisms that provide “credit” for the multitude of non-flow restoration and conservation measures undertaken or proposed by Klamath Basin water users.
A Hard Pill to Swallow
Moving forward with the development of a water bank intended to compensate farmers for reallocating their water to environmental purposes presents a tricky and politically risky endeavor for local water users.
“On the one hand, we want to be able to protect Project water users from a repeat of 2001 by providing dry-year, compensated options”, said Dan Keppen, KWUA’s Executive Director. “On the other hand, we must continue to question the need and size of the water bank, particularly if the banked water will be used to support lake levels and downstream flows that have shaky scientific justification.”
After last year’s disastrous shut-off, which the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report has now questioned, it is inevitable that some in the Basin will view acceptance of the water bank concept as acquiescence that the Project is the cause of Basin problems, and that it must be modified to fix those problems. Many believe instead that efforts should be focused on maintaining the progress and momentum made towards revealing the questionable decision-making behind last year’s disastrous water cutoff.
“The unfortunate reality that we now face is that – until the science issues are resolved and the justification for environmental water use is secured – many will view the proposed water bank as an elaborate means to reallocate Project water”, said Keppen, Executive Director for KWUA.
For many irrigators in the Klamath Project, acceptance of a “water bank” at this time – particularly with the interim findings of the National Academy of Science fresh in their minds - is akin to rolling over and accepting the notion that the Klamath Project is over allocated and must be reduced to help the U.S. Interior Department meet its other objectives.
“Unfortunately – and understandably - there is suspicion in some local circles that the water bank proposal is yet another veiled attempt to erode agriculture in the Klamath Basin,” said Bill Kennedy, a Poe Valley rancher who has been active in the water bank discussions.
Water Bank Proposal Coming Together
Kennedy, however, like others involved with the water bank proposal, believes local water users have an opportunity to fairly assess the situation and come up with a plan that works for them. Dave Cacka, a Merrill farmer who chairs the KWUA Water Bank Committee, agrees. (Cont’d on p. 3)
“We have three options”, said Cacka. “We can do nothing, and face a repeat of 2001. We can litigate, with an uncertain outcome. Or, we can try to make this water bank proposal work. Right now, we are focusing our efforts on this last option. At the same time, we will not back away from our efforts to assess and question the justification for higher environmental water demands.”
Local water users have already met over twenty times and are working to complete an assessment and proposal by mid-November. They acknowledge that a lot of ground must be covered in the coming months.
“Before we can formally support a final water bank proposal, we must gain the support of our districts,” said Dave Solem, general manager for Klamath Irrigation District. “Before the districts can sign off, the landowners within those districts must agree to the program. Our farmers will need convincing to assure them that the water bank is justified and that it will help provide the water supply certainty and stability that are currently absent.”
The Sacramento firm of MBK Engineers is providing engineering and water rights consulting services to KWUA’s efforts. MBK played a pivotal role in a successful 2001 program that provided nearly 170,000 acre-feet of Sacramento Valley agricultural water to Westlands Water District, located in the San Joaquin Valley.
In the meantime, KWUA and local districts have not yet made a formal decision on whether or not to
implement the water bank in 2003. “Everything’s in draft format right now”, said Solem. “We need to weigh how actions like temporary land idling, groundwater pumping and conservation measures will truly reduce overall Project water demand. Then we can sit down and talk.”
Overarching Program Principles
KWUA Draft Water Bank Framework
Certainty –in exchange for voluntary participation in the water bank, 100 % of the irrigation demand for the remaining acreage from participating producers will be satisfied, season-long.
Yearly evaluations and timelines - will be provided to protect water rights and the value thereof..
Emphasis on Irrigation – the water bank program should attempt to maximize the acreage that receives water in a given year. Assurances must be provided that the land will receive water and stay in production when it is available under the BO. Clear scientific reasoning must support the justification for any water reduction.
Right of Compensation – the individual’s right to just compensation (fair market value) must be preserved.
Recognition of State water rights and recognition that water rights are private property rights.
Minimize 3rd Party Impacts – to infrastructure, groundwater resources, the local economy and the agricultural environment. Existing water rights and uses must be protected by deferring to state water rights law.
The water bank will sunset at the end of specified time, preferably to conform to the BO.
The water bank program provides “exit agreements” for the federal government and local water users.
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