Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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For Immediate Release
May 24, 2004
Water Users Support Improved Coordination Between Klamath Project and National Wildlife Refuges
The Klamath Water Users Association today saluted the improved coordination between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on Klamath Project water management operations. The stored water that is being released from the Lower Klamath Refuges this week will help meet the needs of downstream interests, in a year when the water originally forecasted to meet environmental and agricultural water needs failed to materialize.
This year, 75,000 acre-feet of Klamath River water that historically would have gone to meet irrigation needs is instead being left in the lake and river system to meet the conditions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In the past two years, at least 80,000 acre-feet of agricultural water was redirected to satisfy these same conditions. This water is available because of a federally-funded water bank program that compensates farmers to idle farmland, or to use groundwater in place of Klamath Project surface water. Next year, due to water bank requirements – and regardless of actual hydrologic conditions - 100,000 acre-feet of water will be directed away from agriculture to meet ESA requirements. Water users believe the current federal water bank management is hampered by rigid scheduling requirements, a problem that may be remedied by providing more management flexibility.
"The agencies have 75,000 acre-feet of additional water to manage this year; they should be able to use that water in as flexible a manner as possible," said Steve Kandra, who farms near Merrill, Oregon and Tulelake, California. "At the same time, they should be accountable for how it is managed."
In the past six months, local water users have noted improved coordination between refuge managers and the agricultural community, including opportunities organized by USFWS for farmers to meet state and national conservation leaders, including representatives from the National Audubon Society.
"We are beginning to see more representatives from the conservation community who appear to be willing to work in a collaborative manner with Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers," said KWUA Executive Director Dan Keppen. "We know that extreme elements on both sides of the water management issue will still operate as usual. I’m encouraged that mainstream conservation groups like the National Audubon Society are starting to recognize that Klamath Project landowners share a unique relationship with the refuges, and that they can play a positive role in improving things for farmers and wildlife."
The farmers that work the ground on refuge leaselands and lands adjacent to the refuges are among the most proactive conservationists in the country:
This effort to develop solutions designed to comply with Endangered Species Act requirements while enabling farmers to continue to farm and to continue to support wetlands and wildlife is a delicately balanced activity.
The Klamath Water Users Association is a nonprofit corporation that has represented Klamath Irrigation Project irrigators since 1953. KWUA members include rural irrigation districts and other public agencies, as well as private irrigation companies operating on both sides of the California-Oregon border.
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