to release 50,000 acre-feet of water to Klamath Project; provide
$20M in drought response
Herald and News by Gene Warnick April 12, 2022
Klamath Project will receive water from the Bureau of
Reclamation this year, after being shut out in 2021.
But the amount is barely a drop in the
bucket for a region experiencing one of the driest years in
Reclamation announced Monday the
project will receive approximately 50,000 acre-feet of water
to allow for limited irrigation beginning April 15. That’s
approximately one-seventh of what’s available in Upper
The bureau also announced a total of
$20 million in immediate aid through the Klamath Project
Drought Response Agency for this year’s irrigation season.
An additional $5 million in technical assistance is being
made available to Klamath Basin tribes for their projects.
“The Klamath Basin is experiencing
prolonged and extreme drought conditions that we have not
seen since the 1930s,” said Reclamation acting commissioner
David Palumbo in a news release. “We will continue to
monitor the hydrology and adaptively manage conditions in
close coordination with project water users, tribes and
state and federal agency partners. Reclamation is dedicated
to collaborating with all stakeholders to get through
another difficult year and keep working toward long-term
solutions for the basin.”
The announcement brought a critical
response from the Klamath Water Users Association, which
estimated the total is about 15% of what farmers and
“We have 170,000 acres that could be
irrigated this year and we’re ready to get to work,” KWUA
President Ben DuVal, who farms with his wife and daughters
on land served by the project in Tulelake, said in a news
release. “On a single acre, we can produce over 50,000
pounds of potatoes, or 6,000 pounds of wheat. This year,
most of that land will not produce any food because the
government is denying water for irrigation. We’ll just be
trying to keep the weeds and dust under control.”
Ernest Conant, the regional director
of reclamation’s California-Great Basin Region was
empathetic in a conference call with media members Monday.
“I wish we had better news,” Conant
said. “Obviously there are no winners in this critical year
as all interests are suffering — fisheries, farmers tribes
and waterfowl alike — but given the current hydrology that
we have to work with, we did the best job we could.”
Gene Souza, the executive director of
the Klamath Irrigation District (KID), said the “bright
side” is that there will be some water available this year.
“I was thankful it was not zero and I
was locked out of my gate,” Souza said in a phone interview.
“But we’re still talking about numbers that are not enough
to provide the economic stability of this community. ... The
farmers are the spigot that continually gets turned on and
Farmers in the basin are restricted
from using water stored in Upper Klamath Lake, which is home
to several species of endangered sucker fish that are
important to the tribes. Water is also sent down the Klamath
River for threatened Coho salmon.
The 50,000 acre-feet is subject to
meeting an Upper Klamath Lake elevation of no less than
4,138.15 feet by the end of the water year, with the
objective of no less than 4,139.2 feet through July 15, to
protect spawning sucker fish.
Conant was asked whether inflation and
food shortages were considered in Reclamation’s decision.
“That’s in the back of everyone’s
mind, but we have to comply with federal law, including the
Endangered Species Act,” he said. “That was the driving
force. We all understand and appreciate the need for food
safety and security, but ... all we can hope for is for
hydrology to improve.”
That might not come soon enough for
farmers and ranchers in the basin.
Last week, KID held a ballot in which
319 of the 377 members who voted said they’d be willing to
risk their federal drought funding for more water.
Conant stressed unauthorized
diversions of water will result in reductions to the
project’s water allocation, and appropriate legal action
will be pursued.
“We certainly hope that’s not the case
now that we do have an allocation, even though it’s
nominal,” Conant said of unauthorized diversions. “”We’re
hoping irrigators will cooperate with us and manage the
supply that we have.”
The Klamath Tribes sent out a news
release decrying the KID vote.
“The only conclusion we can draw from
it is that KID plans to increase its ongoing, illegal
diversions from Upper Klamath Lake,” the release said. “We
have heard much talk from the project irrigators about ‘the
need for responsible behavior’ and ‘cooperation so that we
can keep the peace.’ Was it only talk? KID’s leadership
should think carefully about the consequences of further
theft, further treaty violations and the escalation of
tensions. Be responsible neighbors.”
Vice Chairman Frankie Myers of the
Yurok Tribe told the Associated Press the fact that salmon,
sucker fish and waterfowl are competing for the region’s
water was a “direct sign of the ecological collapse brought
by water withdrawals.”
“Although we are gratified that the
river is afforded minimal protections under this plan, it is
no time for celebration. Salmon runs will continue to suffer
under these conditions, and as climate change intensifies,
such protections will become increasingly important,” Myers
The Klamath Tribes accused KID of
illegally charging the A Canal, the 9-mile route from the
Upper Klamath Lake to KID’s hydro facility, in recent weeks,
but both Conant and Souza said that was scheduled
maintenance to get ready for this year’s water flow.
“While reclamation has provided us
some opportunities to work with them, the farmers and
ranchers of this basin and our community all depend on
agriculture. About one in three jobs in the basin can be
tied to agriculture,” Souza said. “The loss is going to be
felt in restaurants and grocery stores and potentially in
food market across the nation.
“It’s just a shame we’ve got 350,000
acre-feet of water in Upper Klamath and we’re only (getting)
a small piece.”
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