Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


East side could go dry this summer


  March 18, 2005 Combined staff and wire reports

There's plenty of uncertainty over water supplies for the Klamath Reclamation Project this year, but one thing is clear: Irrigators on the project's east side are in for a tough summer.

Many of the 30,000 acres in the Langell Valley and Horsefly irrigation districts near Bonanza might not get any water this summer because of dry weather, low reservoirs and little expected inflow.

"It's pretty bad over there," said Dave Sabo, Klamath Reclamation Project manager. Forecasts call for no water out of Clear Lake and 50 percent of normal supplies from Gerber Reservoir.

The districts get their water from the two reservoirs, which are fed by snowmelt from a smaller and dryer basin than Upper Klamath Lake. District managers plan to meet with Project officials next week to figure out if anything can be done to get water in the irrigation pipes.

"As far as irrigation on the east side goes, it might be nonexistent," said John Nichols, Langell Valley district manger.

He said the water predicted to be available from Gerber might supply a half-season of irrigation for about 8,000 acres, even with individual allotments for irrigators dropped from 3 acre-feet of water to 1 acre-foot.

Reclamation officials plan to deliver water from Upper Klamath Lake, which supports most of the Klamath Project, but farmers have been asked to conserve.

Snowpack in the mountains above the Klamath Basin is at 27 percent of normal and has been declining about 1 percent a day since the start of March. The latest forecast for water running into Upper Klamath Lake dropped by 20 percent the past two weeks to 210,000 acre-feet, Sabo said.

''That is putting us down into one of the three or four driest years on record since 1961,'' Sabo said.

The Klamath Reclamation Project serves about 1,400 farms on 210,000 acres. In summer 2001, drought led the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to shut off water to most of the project to meet Endangered Species Act demands for fish. Though water was restored later in the summer of 2001, the shutoff kicked off an uproar from farmers. Federal marshals were called in to guard headgates where water to the main canal was shut off.

''There will not be a shutoff this year,'' for the bulk of the project, Sabo said. ''I can say that with some definition.''

He is asking farmers with the 180,000 acres served by Upper Klamath Lake to suggest ways to cut their water use by up to 20 percent when irrigation season begins in April.

''Some farmers who may have been planning on planting new fields may want to hold off this year,'' Sabo said. ''Some who want to expand production may not be able to.''

The bureau is spending about $7.5 million dollars on a water bank to assure 100,000 acre feet of water for endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River under terms of the Endangered Species Act. The "water bank" is filled by buying water from private wells and paying people to leave their farmland dry.

Oregon Natural Resources Council spokesman Steve Pedery complained that in the four years since the 2001 shutoff, nothing has been done to significantly reduce water demand, such as buyouts or long-term leases to idle farmland.

''Every year is a drought year for fish and wildlife in the Klamath Basin,'' Pedery said. ''As bad as it is this year for agriculture, it was just as bad last year for fish. We've promised too much water to too many interests.''

But Sabo said buying farmland to permanently reduce water demand would not produce increased flows at the times they would benefit fish, such as the spring, when juvenile salmon swim to the ocean.

Bob Gasser, a fertilizer and pesticide supplier with the Klamath Water Users Association, said Clear Lake was down because water was sent down the Klamath River two years ago for salmon.

''It's going to be very tight,'' Gasser said. ''... Drying up land is the last option we like to see. But it is going to happen this year.''





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

Copyright klamathbasincrisis.org, 2005, All Rights Reserved