Ore. gov seeks aid for farmers ahead of water
By JEFF BARNARD, Mercury News March 4, 2010
GRANTS PASS, Ore.—About 1,300 farmers in a Klamath Basin
irrigation project are waiting to hear whether drought conditions
will leave enough water to plant crops this year without help from
a landmark agreement designed to share scarce water between fish
and farms. Gov. Ted Kulongoski is headed to Klamath Falls on
Tuesday to be briefed by federal authorities on what is being done
to allow irrigation of 200,000 acres along the Oregon-California
border while meeting federal requirements for protected fish.
Even if some flexibility can be found to help threatened suckers
in Upper Klamath Lake and coho salmon in the Klamath River, "it is
likely that drought conditions will require significant reduction
of irrigation deliveries to the farming community," Kulongoski
wrote in a letter Wednesday to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Without some good spring rains, as much as 80 percent of the
Klamath Reclamation Project could be without water this year, said
Greg Addington of the Klamath Water Users Association.
He said it is particularly tough on farmers to have to face a
drought with the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement not yet
approved. The agreement is part of a two-part deal to remove dams
from the river to help salmon.
"To have this year right out of the chute...," Addington said.
"Our interest is getting our guys through this so they can enjoy
the (benefits of the agreement) in the future, and not having
foreclosures and bankruptcies right away."
Signed two weeks ago in Salem after five years of negotiations,
the restoration agreement offers drought provisions such as
storing more water in reservoirs over the winter, paying farmers
to leave their land idle, and buying water from wells. Farmers
would know what to expect by March 1 instead of April when
irrigation season starts.
The agreement requires approval and funding from Congress, and is
likely to be phased in over 10 years.
Kulongoski and state water authorities will consider a drought
declaration next week, which would open up low-interest loans and
other federal programs to farmers. Mike Carrier, a natural
resources adviser for the governor, said Kulongoski was looking
into other state and federal programs to help farmers.
Kulongski also asked Salazar to authorize Interior agencies to
work with Oregon and California on developing the drought plan
called for in the restoration agreement, even though it has not
yet been approved by Congress.
Snowpack is about 30 percent below normal and Upper Klamath Lake,
the irrigation project's main reservoir, has been running about
the same water level as in 2001, when drought forced the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation to shut off water to the project to leave
enough water for fish.
Water was restored later in the year, but it was too late to save
many of the region's crops, which include potatoes, onions, grain,
When full irrigation was restored the next year, tens of thousands
of adult salmon died in the Klamath River from diseases related to
low and warm water.
Widespread desire to avoid a repeat led to the restoration
agreement signed by farmers, Indian tribes, the governors of
Oregon and California, fishermen and conservation groups.