Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
“Storage big part of answer for
May 23, 2005
By DAN KEPPEN Guest columnist
The wet weather we have seen in the last month has saturated the ground, and with Klamath Project farmers taking little to no irrigation water, managers have socked water away into every available nook and cranny to prepare for the coming dry months.
Meanwhile, Upper Klamath Lake has reached brimful capacity, and excess water is being spilled downstream. The Link River below the dam is running at bank-full conditions, and flows at the mouth of the Klamath River are discharging into the ocean at a rate that would fill an empty Upper Klamath Lake in fewer than five days.
A recent front-page article in the Herald and News contained a quote from a Lake County public works employee that said it all: "Too bad we can't take that water that's coming down now and bottle it and save it."
Toward that end, the Family Farm Alliance last month released its "Western Water Supply Initiative" database, an effort to identify potential opportunities to enhance water supplies for communities throughout the Western United States.
Explosive population growth in the West and Southwest is placing unprecedented demands on the existing supplies at the same time that environmental demands are reducing the amount of water available for human use and consumption. In the past, the nation responded to the need for more water and power in the West by building large dams, which now form the most impressive water supply infrastructure in the world. But many policymakers apparently agree that the "era of the big dam" is over.
So how will we meet the ever-increasing demand for water in the West? Improved conservation and efficiency by urban and agricultural water users is certainly part of the solution, but only part. It's simply ludicrous to believe that conservation alone will supply enough water for the tens of millions of new residents expected to arrive in Western cities during the coming decades.
For some, the answer is to regard agriculture as "the reservoir" that will provide all the water necessary to meet urban and environmental needs. Water currently used for agriculture can be freed up for other uses by buying out farmers or forcing them to surrender their supplies through regulatory means. Best of all, some will say, this water can be "developed" without building dams.
This approach will destroy irrigated agriculture in the West.
Jobs, homes and whole communities will be lost, and along with them that part of our national security that depends on a diverse and vibrant domestic food production industry.
Yet, despite its harsh human and economic consequences, mining the agricultural water supply is, by default, our national water policy because we are not creating new supplies to meet the demands that are already upon us.
It now takes about 20 years - an entire generation - and millions of dollars to plan, permit and build even a modest "non-controversial" water storage project. Most communities simply aren't willing to endure a struggle that long and expensive when buying or bullying water from agriculture is quicker and cheaper.
The Family Farm Alliance believes that there has to be a better way.
We believe that it is possible to meet the needs of cities and the environment without sacrificing western irrigated agriculture. To achieve that goal, we must expand the water supply in the West. There must be more water stored and available to farms and cities. Maintaining the status quo simply isn't sustainable in the face of unstoppable population growth.
The purpose of the alliance's western water supply initiative is to stimulate a dialogue on how to expand and enhance water supplies in a manner that is both timely and respectful of environmental values. We have invited a variety of interests to join us in that dialogue.
Eighteen months ago, the alliance asked its members for their ideas for expanding, enhancing or stabilizing water supplies in their areas. We received more than 80 responses. Some of them are just ideas, others are projects in the planning stages, and some are ready to be implemented. They include groundwater as well as surface storage, new projects and improvements to old ones, large undertakings and small. Some would need federal funding, many would not. We have compiled them into an interactive database that is available on CD-ROM.
Long Lake reservoir, proposed for inclusion in the database by Klamath County Commissioner John Elliott, is one of these projects. So are more than a dozen other potential supply enhancement projects which were studied by the Klamath River Compact Commission in the 1990s. These types of projects all can help increase the amount of storage to carryover surplus water from one year to the next, which the Bureau of Reclamation recently noted is the best long-term solution, particularly during drier years, toward meeting water demand in the Klamath Basin.
Let me be clear about what the initiative is not. It is not a "plan," and it is not a list of projects recommended for implementation by the Family Farm Alliance. The alliance does not endorse any specific project in the database.
Rather, this is a "book of ideas," and we want to begin a discussion on how the best of these ideas can be realized.
If you have questions about the initiative, please feel free to contact the new Klamath Falls office of the Family Farm Alliance, at 541-850-9007.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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