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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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 RESPONSE by Dan Keppen, Family Farm Alliance Executive Director
To: 'Water bank’ drags river basin deeper into debt, High Country News, October 17th Edition, by Rebecca Clarren 11/10/05

·         The article claims that the Bureau does not monitor the water diversions of the 1,200 farmers in the Klamath Project. While every farmer in the Project may not have individual meters, the Bureau does have sufficient monitoring at the irrigation district level to measure diversions. The article leaves the impression that no one knows how much water the farmers are using, when in fact, there are numerous measuring locations within the Project.  

·         I’m not sure that it’s accurate to say that “wells most likely draw water away from springs that feed the region’s rivers and lakes.” The really big wells down on the state line are over 1,000 feet deep, and I’m not sure there is sufficient evidence at this time to clearly delineate where and how that deep aquifer is recharged. Maybe it’s coming from rivers and lakes, but maybe it’s coming from recharge areas in the foothills in and around the Tulelake Basin.  

·         Bob Hunter and WaterWatch have long advocated that buying out Project farms will some how solve the water crisis. They 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).  

·         Hunter and the tone of the article suggest that the basin is overallocated and 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.





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