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Central Valley irrigators look to Klamath Basin for assistance

by Ty Beaver, Herald and News April 5, 2009

Though the Klamath Basin and the San Joaquin Valley projects and water issues differ in size and operations, Lynnette Wirth, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said the prospects of fallowed fields, lost income and an uncertain future are the same.

The situation led Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, and other irrigators and community members in the Central Valley to look to the Klamath Basin as an example of how to get the attention of the public and lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

They’ve launched a Web site — ourvalleywatercrisis.org — as a way of publicizing their position. The Klamath Basin’s 2001 Bucket Brigade — in which protesters used buckets to transfer water from Lake Ewauna to the A Canal — inspired them to conduct a march originating from the town of Mendota sometime in April.

But unlike the Basin, Wade said, community members aren’t seeking to have representatives of different interests meet and work out an agreement.

Endangered Species Act

Instead, they are looking for ways to prevent the federal Endangered Species Act from negatively impacting specific groups, including construction of a new water conveyance system.

Dan Keppen of the Klamath Falls Family Farm Alliance said that beyond the immediate impacts of unemployment and food costs, the Central Valley’s circumstances could bring more attention to the Basin’s water issues. “It could be a wake-up call for policymakers,” he said.


Steve Kandra, an irrigator on the Klamath Irrigation Project and board member of Klamath Water Users Association, said the problems facing the Central Valley aren’t exactly the same as those impacting the Basin. The two do have a common theme in that the Endangered Species Act is affecting their ability to use water, but the differences in size and the number and types of groups affected make the problems and the solutions more complex in California, he said.

“That project is so big and complex, it makes our problems look much more simple,” he said.

Kandra and others are watching the situation. They’re interested to see what legislative avenues the Central Valley irrigators pursue and if they can succeed at having new water storage built or in modifying the Endangered Species Act, actions that could face a lot of hurdles.

Klamath impact

Kandra said he’s also concerned about the Central Valley project directly impacting water in the Klamath River.

The project receives some water currently from the Trinity River, a tributary of the Klamath that is routed to the Sacramento River. Increasing that diversion could negatively impact irrigation in the Basin.
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