Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

  Manage lake to fill in time for irrigation season
  Recovery of imperiled fish can’t be done solely on the backs of family farms
By DAN KEPPEN, Herald and News 1/30/11, Guest Writer
     The stored water from the Klamath Reclamation Project made available this past year was far below normal levels and, as the Herald and News has reported in detail, our community has suffered.

   If Project irrigators face similar circumstances in 2011, some of our local businesses may face fatal results. The Klamath County Chamber of Commerce recently sent a formal letter to the federal agencies that manage Upper Klamath Lake expressing our concerns and urging that they take all possible measures to allow for full capacity water levels by the beginning of the next irrigation season.

   Agriculture provides tremendous direct and indirect benefits to the local and regional economy.

   In 2009, the total contribution from farms to Klamath County was $482,598,000. Food production is also a business sector that generates wealth and jobs.  

   In 2007, farms in Klamath County contributed to the full-time and parttime employment of roughly 4,500 people. When you look at agriculture as a business entity within our county, it is one of the business sector’s largest employers.

   For 80 years, Klamath Project irrigation supplies proved sufficient to meet the needs of our area’s burgeoning farming and ranching communities.

   Making it work

   Although there were years where Mother Nature and Project storage capacity proved insufficient to meet full irrigation   demands, the local community managed to stretch thin supplies and make things work.

   That all changed in the early 1990s when steadily more restrictive government agency decisions made to meet Endangered Species Act goals began to chip away at the stored water supply originally developed for irrigation. Since then, biological opinions rendered by federal fisheries agencies have increasingly emphasized the reallocation of Project water as the sole means of avoiding jeopardy to fish protected by the ESA.

   The recent federal focus on Klamath Project operations once again suggests that everything else impacting fish populations can be ignored, and that flows from the Klamath Project — accounting for less than 4 percent of the water resource — will mitigate for all other impacts within a 10 million-acre watershed. Unfortunately, the practical application of this flawed and narrowly focused logic has only resulted in destabilizing the economy of an entire community.

   We must instead seek accountable, results-driven efforts throughout the watershed and the ocean to tackle fisheries challenges. Recovery of imperiled fish species can not be done solely on the backs of the family farms that depend on stored water.

   Many of our business members are under the impression that extra water — above and beyond the biological opinion guidelines — was released in 2009/2010 at the request of the National Marine Fisheries Service to “protect” coho salmon far downstream. They are calling for the coho biologic opinion to be reviewed, with an emphasis on associated economic impacts.

   We understand the many competing needs and interests regarding water issues in the Klamath River watershed.

   We respect the tremendous collaborative work that has been done thus far, in part due to the improved relationships that have blossomed as the Klamath settlement agreements were crafted. However, we believe the credibility and long-term viability of the agreements will be severely diminished if the agreement signatories cannot find a way to fill Upper Klamath Lake in 2011.  

   There is clearly a need for a more stable and predictable local agricultural water supply. And there is a very simple overarching principle that will improve predictability and stability for all the Basin water interests: The Bureau of Reclamation and fishery managers should focus management efforts by striving to ensure that Upper Klamath Lake is full at the beginning of each irrigation season.

   Our community simply cannot stand another 2010.  

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