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Drying out

One side of Langell Valley is lush, the other is dry

Cindy and Jim Camozzi rent out their pasture land to a neighboring cattle rancher. They live on the western side of Langell Valley, which stopped receiving irrigation water on July 7. H&N photo by Jill Aho

By Jill Aho, Herald and News, July 28, 2009

BONANZA — One half of Langell Valley is green and lush, with some alfalfa fields ready for a second cutting and others getting close. The other half is drying out.

The Bureau of Reclamation shut off water deliveries from Clear Lake on July 7, which affects the western side of the valley. The eastern side, which gets water deliveries from Gerber Reservoir, is still receiving irrigation water.

About 40 of the 113 irrigators in the Langell Valley Irrigation District are impacted by the shutoff.

The majority of landowners in Langell Valley rely on cattle and alfalfa crops for income. Many rent their pastures to ranchers. Those on the west side say they are likely to lose some of that rental income when their pastures die and ranchers are forced to move their herds to greener land.

Others, who grow alfalfa crops, will get one good cutting, a second if they’re lucky, and the alfalfa market is poor. Hay prices reached record highs last year, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that demand for most grades of hay is light while the supply remains moderate to heavy in Oregon markets.

“Right now, the entire hay market is pretty soft,” said Willie Riggs, director of the Oregon State University Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center. “What we’re seeing in the forage market is it’s half what it was last year.”

Kim and Spud Hammerich have about 650 head of cattle on their ranch. Kim Hammerich said they are among those fortunate landowners who have access to well water. A few of their neighbors will have to watch as the cattle are shipped off, either to new grazing grounds or to slaughter.

Meanwhile, the Hammeriches will contend with high power bills as a result of pumping from wells.

“Hay prices are low. With cattle prices being low, it’s going to hurt everybody,” Kim Hammerich said.

Riggs said livestock makes up $108 million of the $300 million that agriculture pumps into the Klamath County economy.

“If a farmer or rancher in the valley loses a dollar in the livestock sector, somewhere else in Klamath County, someone else loses another dollar,” Riggs said. “Every time you don’t produce a pound of beef, you’re having a negative impact on that $300 million.”

Langell Valley Irrigation District charges $19.50 an acre for irrigation water. There are no refunds in the future for any of the landowners within the district, Kim Hammerich said.

“They already paid for the water and now they have to come up with money for hay,” Kim Hammerich said. “Either that or sell their cows because there’s no pasture.”

Attempts to reach Frank Hammerich, director of the Langell Valley Irrigation District, were unsuccessful. Several phone messages over five days left at the district office, Frank Hammerich’s home, and his cell phone went unreturned.

A trip to the office near Bonanza Thursday found Frank Hammerich out somewhere in the valley with Bureau of Reclamation representatives.

Ranchers’ income threatened

BONANZA — Cindy and Jim Camozzi bought their 240-acre property in Langell Valley 19 years ago and have restored all the buildings and the home where they now live. They rent their pasture to a neighboring cattle rancher, and it constitutes their main source of income throughout the year.

But after the Bureau of Reclamation shutoff water deliveries July 7 to irrigators on the western half of Langell Valley, the Camozzis say that income is threatened.

“The difference is we’re not going to be able to keep them here as long,” Cindy Camozzi said.

Rather than keep the cattle until November, the Camozzis anticipate the herd will be moved when their pastures die.

The Camozzis took steps to maximize the life of their grazing land.

They knew water deliveries would be short, so they used aeration equipment on their pastures, which alleviates both compaction from the cattle and creates space for water to soak into the ground.

They flood-irrigated right before the water was cut off.

“You see other people watering (on the other side) and we’re drying up. It’s a hard thing to watch,” Jim Camozzi said.

Jim Camozzi also installed a working windmill from 1925 that pulls water from deep under ground. With just a little wind, the mill fills a 500-gallon drum that the cattle congregate around on hot days.

Cindy Camozzi said the couple can’t plan for how much the shutoff will affect income this year.

“You don’t know how long the grass is going to last. It’s hard enough to plan because of the weather. Rain would help,” she said. “Once that grass dies, once it turns brown, that’ll be it for the season.”

The Camozzis want to see the sucker fish delisted as much as anyone in the Klamath Basin.

“If we don’t get this sucker fish off the endangered list, we’re the ones endangered,” Cindy Camozzi said.

“They put them above us. Above our livelihood,” Jim Camozzi added. “I think the whole way of life in this valley’s in danger. We feel blessed to live here, but I don’t have a good feeling at all.”

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              Page Updated: Thursday July 30, 2009 03:05 AM  Pacific

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