Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Drought debate goes on
No consensus on issues surrounding water shortage
By ELON GLUCKLICH, Herald and News 8/3/10
Many Klamath Basin water users agree: Federal money diverted to the region has aided farmers, who agreed to leave parts of their land bare due to water shortages.
But a consensus over the scope of the 2010 drought ends there. Vast reaches of the Basin's soil are dry due to land idling. And Tom Mallams, president of the Klamath Off-Project Water Users, feels the government has overstated the severity of drought conditions here.
“This is a man-made drought, no doubt about it,” Mallams said. While he said he supports farmers’ rights to be compensated for leaving their land dry, millions of federal dollars have been diverted to a region whose real problem lies in its wetlands. Those wetlands, he said, “consume anywhere from two to four times as much water as irrigable lands do.”
Kevin Moore, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office, said his department’s initial analysis of expected rainwater indicated drastic shortages for Upper Klamath Lake. That analysis was conducted at the beginning of the year.
“Our models indicated that the drought was going to be worse than it turned out to be,” he said. A colder than-average May helped deter evaporation from the lake’s supply, which gave irrigators a more abundant source when the water supply was opened to farmers later that month.
“The reduced demand on the resource was the result of the cooler weather,” Moore said.
“We still have a huge problem.”
Others say this year’s drought has not reached the level many feared because of the sheer number of farmers who ag reed to idle their land. That number has been bolstered by more than $13 million in total funds channeled here for those farmers.
“The reason we’ve been able to manage this year is primarily because of the land idling and groundwater substitution,” said Klamath Irrigation District Manager Dave Solem. Groundwater substitution refers to farmers tapping into wells, rather than using lake water for their crops.
But Solem indicated this year has still been among the most difficult to manage. The severity of this year’s shortage can be seen from the quantity of land in his district — as much as 7,000 acres — that received no water until July 10.
“And all of the Shasta View and Malin irrigation districts are not taking water from the (Upper Klamath) Lake,” he added.
Much of the money diverted to the Klamath Basin for land idling has been funneled through the Klamath Water and Power Authority. KWAPA Executive Director Hollie Cannon said the money, coupled with increased well use and planning by farmers, mitigated what looked to be among the worst water years in recent history. Most land-owners were aware of a potential shortage as early as February, giving them enough time to look into alternative sources of irrigation.
“The agricultural disaster is not near what it would have been” as a result of that planning, Cannon said. But with several months to go in this year’s production season, few can say what impact dwindling water resources will have.
“We still have a huge problem,” Cannon said.
Where’s the money?
A war funding bill signed by President Barack Obama last week included $10 million in drought relief aid. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. successfully lobbied to include the funding with the current Klamath Basin drought in mind.
But how much of that money makes it to the Basin remains to be seen. According to Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, water users will have to apply for their share of money, competing with other drought-plagued regions throughout the Western United States.
“It’s sort of fair game,” Addington said of the money. Others said they did not know how much money would eventually get to the Basin, or when it would get here.
“Through the Drought Relief Act, any county that is a drought-declared disaster can apply for the use of those funds,” said Klamath Water and Power Authority Executive Director Hollie Cannon.
“While our congressional leaders intended it to come to the Klamath Basin, the method by which we get it is to compete with other drought relief counties.”
Page Updated: Monday January 17, 2011 02:54 AM Pacific
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