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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Friday, March 11, 2005

‘It’s uncertainty, in one word’

By TAM MOORE Oregon Staff Writer

Klamath rancher Bill Kennedy stands by the Lost River, where jousting over water storage and scarce water supply has made for uncertain times in the past five years. “It is a stressful business to be in,” he says, “regardless if you have a private source of water or just dryland farming.”
BONANZA, Ore. – Where Lost River breaks through Harpold Gap, exiting the Langell Valley and twisting south toward California, the sun hasn’t come up yet on this February morning.

Bill Kennedy, who runs Lost River Ranch a bit downstream from the gap, is out early to talk about Klamath Basin farming before he heads to town and a round of meetings. He’s more than a spectator in Klamath water issues. Kennedy is president of the Family Farm Alliance, the advocacy group for Western irrigated agriculture. Its mission is affordable irrigation water supplies for farmers and ranchers.

Kennedy reflected on the past five years and what it’s been like for him and his neighbors.

“It’s uncertainty, in one word,” he said. “The uncertainty that goes with the management of the water resource, especially when we get into this single-species management. It’s uncertainty for us as producers.

“It’s also uncertainty for the wildlife that we enjoy and that depend on the habitat that we provide for them. That’s something that becomes clearer and clearer every year.”

He worries that the Klamath Reclamation Project’s 100,000 acre foot water bank will dry up more than 25,000 acres to protect three species of fish under Endangered Species Act protection at the expense of other wildlife.

“That’s prime habitat for wildlife – 400 species of wildlife, including some that are listed, the bald eagle, for example,” he said.

He also sees irony that Klamath project, now in its centennial year, is facing so much uncertainty.

“A group of really bright people had the foresight of developing a project that would provide a certainty of supply of water for them and for wildlife,” he said.

“It also tied in with providing a certainty of affordable power. And here we’re not only re-examining the decisions, but we are ignoring those decisions and that development – setting it aside as something that’s not, that hasn’t been wise and hasn’t been prudent.”

The uncertainty, added to the stress of farming in general, has also caused some farmers to quit.

“There are a lot of people that leave the business every year,” he said. “You see those people leaving the business, and I think it is typical of the Western United States. It is a stressful business to be in regardless if you have a private source of water or just dryland farming. It’s a very stressful business to be in.”

He also sees uncertainty in the water forecast for this growing season and how the water has been managed in past years.

“It’s going to be a low year on the Lost River, that’s for sure,” he said.

“The releases from storage will be very minimal. One of the impacts we are reeling from is the release of water in 2000. (The U.S. Bureau of) Reclamation released, I think, 100,000 acre feet from Clear Lake. It went right through this Harpold Gap in the middle of August.

“We were scratching our heads then, and we are still suffering from that. It will be a low flow.”

Groundwater will help the water situation, but Kennedy still sees uncertainty ahead for his neighbors and himself.

“There is a substantial amount of groundwater (developed) in this area that will benefit the species as well with return flows,” he said. “As long as we don’t tighten things up so much that we eliminate our return flows, I think we will have some sort of flow through the Harpold Gap.”





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