Klamath Water Users Association 

KWUA response to The Oregonian's
'buy out the Project Farmers' article


The Oregonian's "Silver Bullet": Buy out Project Farmers
  • Despite any evidence that supports their argument, the editors have long advocated that buying out Project farms will some how solve the water crisis. They - and the environmental activists who most strongly promote this idea (ONRC and WaterWatch) - have failed to demonstrate HOW retiring Klamath Project farmland will generate new water, particularly since the environmental groups would like to convert those lands to wetlands, which we know use 1 AF/acre more water than farms in the Klamath Project (source: UC Extension Office, Tulelake, CA).
  • The latest editorial uses a new justification - alleged impacts to Klamath Basin groundwater - as the reason for resurrecting the buy out option. Past justifications by the paper for this argument include the 2001 water curtailment and the 2003 fish die-off on the lower Klamath River.
  • The Klamath Project is not the only consumptive user of water in the watershed. Ignoring water that is used by private and public wetlands and refuges, and water that is exported to the Central Valley and the Rogue River Valley, Klamath Project agriculture only accounts for 41% of all the irrigated acreage above Iron Gate Dam (source: NRCS, 2003). The Project itself only covers 2% of the entire 10.5 million acre watershed.

  • The Oregonian fails to acknowledge what the National Academy of Sciences final Klamath Report concluded: "Recovery of endangered suckers and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath basin cannot be achieved by actions that are exclusively or primarily focused on operation of USBR's Klamath Project" (Page 9, "Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin, 2003, NRC of the National Academies). Despite this crucial finding, the editorial board continues to focus solely on Klamath Project farming, or, rather, the elimination of said farming, as its solution.
Klamath Project Demands are Not the Reason for "Too little water"
  • The editorial assumes that agricultural demands are the reason for there being "too little water in the Klamath". In the past 40 to 50 years, while the cropping pattern in the Klamath Project has varied from year to year, the overall planted acreage has remained consistent. On the other hand, the 2002-2012 biological opinion created by NOAA Fisheries for coho salmon established the river flow schedule and the water bank – which ratchets up to 100,000 acre-feet in 2005, regardless of actual hydrologic conditions – that is the primary source of new demand for water in the Klamath River watershed. The result: stored water that has flowed to farms, ranches and the refuges for nearly 100 years is now sent downstream at such high levels, that groundwater pumped from the Lost River basin is being used to supplement the resulting “coho salmon demand” in the Klamath River.

  • It is not the farmers who have imposed new water demands that, in essence, have made groundwater the default supplemental supply to the Klamath Project. It is the opinions of agency fishery biologists who have fundamentally altered how our century-old water project operates, and who have apparently failed to anticipate the resulting impacts to our community.

  • The National Academy of Sciences found no justification for the higher lake levels and higher flow levels contained in the 2001 biological opinions that led to the curtailment of Upper Klamath Lake supplies. The emphasis in the current biological opinions continues to be on high lake levels and high flow levels, despite limited empirical evidence that correlates these factors with sucker fish health in Upper Klamath Lake and coho salmon health in the mainstem Klamath River.

  • Changing the flawed biological opinion would appear to be a reasonable alternative to the “final” solution offered up by the Oregonian. 

The Oregonian's Failure to Cover "The Rest of the Story"


  • In 2002, after Rep. Walden and others in the House of Representatives worked to secure $50 million in Klamath conservation funding as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, the Oregonian's editorial board ripped Walden and the Klamath Water Users Association for not supporting the Senate version of the Farm Bill, which would have provided $175 million to support buying out Klamath Project farms.
  • Also in 2002, within one week of the 2002 Klamath River fish die-off, The Oregonian editorial board immediately pegged the blame for this unfortunate event on the Klamath Project and the Bush Administration, well before the facts were in. “The Bush Administration and Congress thought it could resolve last year’s crisis in the Klamath Basin by challenging the science of salmon protection and simply ordering more water to irrigators,” said The Oregonian editors on September 28, 2002.  Here is the result: thousands of rotting salmon, including hundreds of threatened coho, stacking up in the lower river.”
  • In 2003, The Oregonian featured a front page story that attempted to link White House officials with micromanagement of Klamath Project operations. Karl Rove's name was featured prominently in that article, as well as in two editorials that implied Bush Administration policy makers were somehow responsible for the 2002 fish die-off. Earlier this year, an Inspector General's report dismissed these allegations. No response from the Oregonian.
  • In 2003, Governor Kulongoski's Department of Agriculture recognized the Klamath Water Users Association with its "Leadership in Conservation" Award for its proactive efforts. As far as we know, Karl Rove did not have a hand in this matter. No response from Oregonian editors.
Factual Errors / Omissions in the Editorial
  • The editorial states that Project supplies were cut off in 2001, but when deliveries resumed in 2002, tens of thousands of salmon died in the "too-low, too-warm" Klamath River. The editorial does not mention that Judge Saundra Armstrong in 2003 found no linkage between Klamath Project operations and the fish die-off. Nor is mention made of the National Academy of Sciences final report released later in the year, which noted "It is unclear whether low flows actually blocked upstream migration or, as suggested by literature, that most of the fish stopped moving because of high temperature".
  • The editorial points out that the refuges last summer went six straight weeks without any water deliveries. It does not note that for the past two years, the Lower Klamath refuges have received 37,900 acre-feet and 36,000 acre-feet of water deliveries, respectively, well over the 40-year average refuge use of 26,700 acre-feet (Source: USBR, 2004). The Oregonian editorial also did not mention a U.S. Interior Department solicitor’s opinion that puts perceived Endangered Species Act (ESA) and tribal trust water needs above those of Klamath Project irrigators and the national wildlife refuges. In essence, according to this opinion, farmers get the water that’s left over after lake and river level conditions are met, and the refuges get what’s left over after that. The refuges are short of water - like the farms - because stored water intended for crops and waterfowl has been reallocated away to meet perceived fishery needs.


Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
(541)-883-6100 FAX (541)-883-8893  kwua@cvcwireless.net

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