Klamath Project had already been anticipating an extreme
shortfall in available water in 2020 but is now facing a
possible water shutoff by or before July.
The water allocation of 140,000 acre
feet for the Project announced in April will likely drop to
a total 80,000 acre feet for the year, with an unofficial
estimate of 55,000 acre feet left for the remainder of the
irrigation season and potentially reaching the end of the
water supply by or before July, according to Gene Souza,
manager for the Klamath Irrigation District and Brad Kirby,
manager and president of the Tulelake Irrigation District.
For comparison, 350,000 acre feet is a full allocation for
The unofficial allocation estimates
are based on the May 1 Natural Resources Conservation
Service (NRCS) forecast, which indicates the Klamath Project
is more than six inches below normal precipitation
not get the precipitation that had been anticipated in
April, which further reduced the amount of water that flowed
into Upper Klamath Lake,” Souza said, “and the reduction of
water supply in Upper Klamath Lake has resulted in problems
with the allocated supply of 140,000 acre feet.”
Both Souza and Kirby learned of the
unofficial estimate of a remaining 55,000-acre allocation
from Bureau of Reclamation technical experts on Friday
“That amount is an impossible amount
for the Klamath Project, and it will mean the end for quite
a few, most, if not all family farms in the Klamath
Project,” Kirby said.
“It’s devastating,” he added.
Efforts are underway by Reclamation
and Farm Service Agency to seek funding from the U.S.
Department of Agriculture for a currently unfunded statutory
authority established in 2001, specific to the Klamath
Project under a drought situation.
In a letter signed by Jeffrey Payne,
deputy regional director for Reclamation, and Barry Bushue,
state executive officer for the Farm Service Agency, both
alert Bill Northey, undersecretary for Farm Production
Conservation at U.S. Department of Agriculture, about the
“strong possibility that the Klamath Project will simply go
dry by mid-season, with complete loss of crop and
investment, a disaster of a magnitude that the basin has
The letter from Reclamation and Farm
Service Agency to Farm Production Conservation at U.S.
Department of Agriculture, states: “While 2020 is the
second-worst year of water shortage in the 115-year history
of the Klamath Project, it may be more challenging to
administer than 2001 because, although the basin does have
clear priorities for water delivery, those priorities are
not aligned with the most efficient use of water in the
basin and curtailment strategies for such extreme conditions
have never been needed.
“Further, the infrastructure was not
designed to allow for enforcement of these rules in such
extreme conditions,” the letter adds. “As such, water may be
available to some producers and not at all to others, and to
some for a period of time but not long enough to finish a
Payne echoed his letter during a
Klamath Project Drought Response Agency Zoom call on
Wednesday, noting, “We have an emergency drought situation
here that is unprecedented in the Klamath Basin. The gravity
of that situation has been articulated to the highest levels
of Interior and Agriculture at this point.
“None of the programs that are
available through USDA currently are set up for the type of
disaster and emergency response that is being experienced in
the Klamath Basin or is likely to be experienced over this
growing season,” Payne added.
During the same Zoom call, the KPDRA
on Wednesday directed staff to develop a program proposal
for a partial season program for individuals who have
already started irrigating this season.
Members of the KPDRA will likely
consider the program proposal’s approval on Monday during a
2 p.m. Zoom call. The meeting is open to the public via
“That program would be focused on a
partial season program for somebody that has already
irrigated and now under extenuating circumstances, no longer
would irrigate for whatever reason that may be,” said Marc
Staunton, chairman of the KPDRA. “What’s causing or driving
the proposal of doing the program is just the fact that
everyone is planning on 140,000 acre feet.”
Staunton said there are a lot of
individuals that have already made decisions about their
“They’re in a really bad spot,” he
Staunton said normally, the KPDRA’s
job is to manage reduced demand so that all water users can
get through the year. The agency was established in 2018.
“This year it’s pretty much mitigating
loss because everyone is running or already ran out of
water,” Staunton said.
Land idling encouraged
Land idling is being heavily
encouraged for water users in the Klamath Project under the
KPDRA board members on Wednesday also
heard from Moss Driscoll, senior water and lands specialist
for Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office, regarding the
“Reclamation is sounding the alarm
that we have, based on the new May inflow forecast,
effectively a disaster on our hands in some respects,”
Driscoll said there is “no certainty”
as to the total volume that will be available to the Project
until the day the irrigation season is over.
Souza emphasized the magnitude of the
reduction in available water.
“This is a significant reduction from
the 140,000 acre feet we were told in April,” Souza said in
an email on Friday. “Farmers have planted crops, hired
workers, and have made plans based upon the 140,000 acre
feet … and the rug is currently being pulled out from
“2020 is going to be worse
economically on the Klamath Basin than 2001,” Souza added.
“Millions of dollars of seed are
already in the ground.”
In anticipation of the possibility for
a reduced allocation, KID on Wednesday approved a shift from
a demand-based water delivery system to a supply-based
system, with the outcome of a waiting list for agriculture
The irrigation district also amended
their water delivery policy with strict enforcement of
illegal water use.
”Waiting lists are in effect and
getting longer,” Souza said. “Rates of delivery are going
down to extend season as long as possible allowing for
ground water pumped into the canals to still be delivered.
When we are out of Upper Klamath Lake water … pumping
through our system will no longer be an option.”
Souza said water users in KID could be
out of water between June 15 and July 1 if stored water
continues to be diverted downriver for in-stream purposes.
”I am doing everything within the
limits of our infrastructure to extend the season as long as
possible,” Souza said.
‘Worst of all possible worlds’
Paul Simmons, executive director of
Klamath Water Users Association, confirmed that the scenario
playing out currently is worse than the events surrounding
the water shutoff in April 2001.
“When you heard zero (allocation), you
knew what to do,” Simmons said. “This year when you saw
(140,000 acre feet) coming, you knew what to do. Now you’re
being told it could be different.
“That’s the worst of all possible
worlds,” Simmons added.
KID President Ty Kliewer said that in
2001, while water was shut off to producers, he believed
water users were on the “same page, going the same way” from
“It went from terrible to beyond
impossible and this is worse than 2001,” Kliewer said of the
2020 water year.
“We’re in an unprecedented crisis
here,” he added.
“Every land mine that could possibly
be in the field — we’ve stepped on it.”
Project irrigators are encouraged to
reach out to the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency to
learn more about idling their land through the Klamath Water
“Idling is by far your best hope,”
Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin
Area Office Manager Jeff Nettleton could not be reached for
comment as of Friday afternoon.
For more information about the KPDRA
and the Klamath Water Bank, go online at www.klamathwaterbank.com or
This story will be updated as more
information becomes available.