“We’re winding down at Clear Lake now,” Frank Hammerich, director of the Langell Valley Irrigation District, said Wednesday. “We’re still making full deliveries but it’s getting tighter.”
Hammerich said Clear Lake water may shut off around Aug. 24.
Unfortunately, being cut off from water deliveries is not new to irrigators who rely on Clear Lake.
In 2010 they received no water. In 2009 water was shut off on July 7. Hammerich said this year was similar to 2004, when water lasted until Sept. 1.
That history can compound problems for farmers, said Hank Cheyne, Langell Valley farmer and chairman of the Langell Valley Irrigation District. Though he gets his water from the district’s other water source, Gerber Reservoir, he knows farmers who are facing tough times on the Clear Lake side.
“They’re just doing the best they can do. There isn’t a whole lot you can do when the resource just isn’t there,” Cheyne said. “Farmers and ranchers are pretty darn conservative when it comes to water use. They do the best they can with the amount they’re given.”
Land idling is one option. Hammerich said about 200 acres was put into full season idling and 280 acres are in partial season idling. The Langell Valley district is made up of about 16,805 acres.
“Water is the bloodline of agriculture,” said Bill DeJong, owner of Langell Valley Dairy.
He receives Gerber Reservoir water to irrigate his cow pastures. He said he sympathizes with farmers on the Clear Lake side.
In the 1990s he had one season with only 8 weeks of water and another with only 8 days of water. His grass died and he had to cope by buying feed for his herds. But for other farmers, what they grow is their livelihood. They don’t have another option, he said.
With years of water shutoffs, Cheyne said, irrigators need a break.
“Our problem on the Clear Lake side is we just need a good winter,” Cheyne said. “We have got to have Mother Nature help us out a little bit.”
By idling some land, pumping groundwater and keeping a close eye on the level of Upper Klamath Lake, irrigation districts and the Bureau of Reclamation say growers will get the water they need this year.
“It’s tight,” said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. “But I’m feeling like we’re going to get through it just fine.”
Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Kevin Moore and director of the Klamath Water and Power Agency Hollie Cannon agreed.
They credited late spring snow and rains, and conservation efforts — groundwater pumping and some partial season land idling by irrigators — to the success of meting out enough water to last the season.
“I think the programs have worked really well at protecting irrigators from shortages this year,” Cannon said. “A big part of that was cooperation and work of irrigators themselves.”
Addington expects KWUA members to irrigate through the end of September. In an ideal season, irrigation would continue through October.
“It was a close call,” Moore said. “Thankfully with everyone working together we did get through it.”