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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Loss for irrigators circulates through economy
Community will feel the short- and long-term stresses put on Basin growers
by AMBROSE McAULIFFE, Guest writer Herald and News November 23, 2011
For generations, the Upper Klamath Basin has been producing healthy, low-cost commodities in the form of livestock and hay. Not only has an important way of life developed around ranching in the Basin, but a strong economy has developed along with it.
Recently Chiloquin hosted the Klamath Dam Removal Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report open house and hearings. Unfortunately dam removal has been tied to the much less discussed retirement of 30,000 acre feet of water from the Upper Klamath Basin.
Irrigation in the Basin
At the very foundation of the Upper Klamath Basin’s high quality hay, pastureland and ranching operations is an incredibly important 100-year-old infrastructure built to deliver irrigation water. In some places the Basin drops about a foot for every hundred feet. This is perfect for irrigation, the water therefrom is soaked back into the ground water system like a sponge, or re-channeled, re-used, recycled, re-absorbed, and shared on its way down to Agency and Klamath lakes. There are studies that show that late season return flows and the absorption of irrigation water keeps the nearby streams flowing at a higher level in the late season as well.
Out of the system
Under the current draft of the EIS/EIR 30,000 acre feet of precious irrigation water will be retired from the off-Project Upper Klamath Basin.
This includes ranch land along the Sprague, Williamson and Wood Rivers. If a neighbor above or next door retires their water right, it can then affect the supply of water to ranchers who are irrigating further down the system. They rely on the drain water to irrigate their land and, in turn, pass it on to the next user. If this system is interrupted, everyone suffers. Other problems follow with the invasion of rodents, grasshoppers and weeds, and the accompanying sod and root degradation on once green and growing plants. With irrigation, grasshoppers and rodents are held at bay.
‘Willing’ sellers
These off-Project water users are reassured that they will be made whole. This is not true.
The federal government intends to purchase this water from “willing” sellers. But first, nobody in the upper Basin wants to sell their water which is appurtenant to the land by Oregon water law. But with fear and intimidation that something is better than nothing, surrender will look like a viable alternative. Most irrigated ground has a right to 3 acre feet per season. The formula for purchasing the water will be on the basis of net usage. Net usage is estimated at 1 1/2 acre feet per acre. The other 1 1/2 acre feet will find its way back into the system by return flow and ground water absorption. This formula will allow the Department of the Interior to purchase 3 acre feet of water for half price!
By using the federal government’s formula, off-project irrigators will be forfeiting the irrigation of 20,000 acres for prime pasture and hay land that generates upwards of an average of $500 gross return per acre annually. This comes to a figure of $10 million raw dollars which in many cases circulates through the community three times for a total of $30 million of economic impact. How can we possibly overlook the short- and the long-term financial stress to the community for this lost revenue. Doesn’t the public deserve to understand and appreciate why there is such strong resistance to including this water grab in the KBRA agreement.
Water rights
Oregon water law was created to resolve these issues. Why not encourage our politicians and our federal agencies to follow these laws and to cease and desist from attempting to create a new water right for Upper Klamath Lake? Are we the citizens going to stand by and allow faceless interests to destroy the off-Project agriculture industry that is one of the bedrocks of our community’s economy? Sometimes the most important issues get overlooked. Wouldn’t the media and the citizenry like to hear the rest of the story? It’s still not too late. Many competitions are decided in overtime.
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