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Cooperation, luck keys to irrigation season

Published Tuesday April 12, 2005

Once again the Klamath Reclamation Project heads into a tough irrigation season. There's little snowpack in the mountains to count on for summer stream flows. It'll be up to irrigators, the Bureau of Reclamation and the weather to make sure water keeps flowing through the canals.

We hope they can do it.

The Bureau of Reclamation has approved an operations plan built on a 15 percent cut in water use by irrigators. That's on top of a water bank plan that will probably take about 25,000 acres out of production in order to cut the demand by about 50,000 acre-feet. Pumping will provide another 35,000 acre-feet and wildlife refuges, 15,000, for the 100,000 acre-foot water bank.

In addition to the acres being taken out of production through the water bank, thousands more acres of of farmland that aren't in the project have been converted to wetlands to store water and provide habitat for fish during the past couple of decades.

That latter point needs to be made a lot, since there's a tendency for people at the other end of the Klamath River to point to the project as a major reason for poor fish returns to the Klamath. People in the Upper Klamath Basin have done a lot already.

A cutback of 15 percent may not look like a huge amount, but it's big to farmers, especially considering the efforts that have been made already to convert to more efficient means of delivering water to crops. Obviously, that has to continue.

Cooperation among farmers and between them and the Bureau is a big key. The Bureau says that communications have been greatly improved, which gives everyone involved a chance to plan.

Irrigators also should do their best to keep irrigation water from falling on roads. A few years ago that turned into a significant issue leading to some nasty words about the Klamath Project, but it's unlikely there was enough water involved either to save fish or grow crops.

This will be a tight year. Even an unseasonable cold, wet spell is unlikely to make a big difference. It'll be up to farmers, the Bureau - and maybe even a few crossed fingers.





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