5th Generation Farmer Tricia Hill & Supervisor Geri Byrne Represent Klamath Basin Ag In Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee Hearing

On March 8th, 2022, the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife held a hearing entitled “Klamath River Basin Conditions and Opportunities” (follow the link to see the hearing in its entirety). The Subcommittee gathered virtually to discuss the impact of of dam removal on the Klamath River as well as the challenges facing Tribal interests as well as family farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Project during the ongoing drought.

Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife in the hearing Klamath River Basin Conditions and Opportunities hearing front page

For people living from the top of the Klamath Basin all the way down to the mouth where the Klamath River spills into the Pacific Ocean, this is an emotional, important topic that impacts the lives of everyone in the region. Here in the Upper Basin, the last two years of drought have been devastating to our local economy and communities and the people even tangentially involved in agriculture. Dry, dusty fields getting blown by the wind combined with smoke from wildfires made the air hazardous for those with lung and heart problems, as well as the young and the elderly. In 2021, when the Klamath Irrigation Project received a zero allocation of water, hundreds of domestic wells went dry, leaving people without a way to do the things we take for granted such as cleaning laundry, washing dishes and even getting a drink of water from the spigot.

The burden has also punished our wildlife. The National Wildlife Refuges that provide a rest stop for avian travelers along the Pacific Flyway have dried up. Last year, TID, biologists and area farmers pumped water from Tule Lake’s Sump 1A to Sump 1B in attempt to avoid another outbreak of botulism as well as to save the surviving C’waam and Koptu populations. Looking at 2022, the Klamath Basin water crisis appears to continue, and this year everyone is working to find a way to save the sucker fish and protect the ducks and geese as they travel north and south.

While the outcome of the hearing will be seen in the months to come, Klamath Basin agriculture was very fortunate to have two incredibly well-spoken representative to testify in front of the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. First on our behalf was former KWUA president and fifth generation farmer, Tricia Hill. Ms Hill’s impassioned testimony was hard to ignore as she shared what the citizens living around the Klamath Project are experiencing with the ongoing drought. Her words covered the vast array of experiences in the Basin, from the angle of health and human safety to our now quiet nights. Read Tricia Hill’s submitted statement or watch her testimony below.

Former KWUA President and 5th Generation Farmer, Tricia Hill

Klamath, Modoc and Siskiyou counties were also well represented by Modoc County Supervisor, Geri Byrne. Following Hill’s more personal testimony, Supervisor Byrne discussed the importance Klamath Basin agriculture plays in the three counties’ socio-economics. With the Bureau of Reclamation withholding water from the Klamath Project in 2021, the diminished revenue impacted public safety and businesses throughout the region while causing harm to over 400 species of wildlife. She also went on to point out that the $160 million in funding needs to go to well thought-out plans submitted by the counties and other groups and avoid “random acts of conservation” which are nearly impossible to see if they’ve had any impact on the environment or economy. You can read Supervisor Byrne’s written testimony she provided to the House Subcommittee and watch her verbal testimony below.

Modoc County Supervisor for Area 5, Geri Byrne

In the questions from the Committee members following the testimony, Ms Hill and Supervisor Byrne did an excellent job of sharing the realities of Klamath Basin agriculture. From the brutal impact the drought and 2021 shut-off had on land values to the effectiveness of single-species management and lake levels have had on sucker fish populations, they handled the questions deftly and honorably.

The water crisis Klamath Basin agriculture continues to face doesn’t appear to be going away soon. In the interim, we need people like Tricia Hill and Supervisor Geri Byrne to advocate for our communities. The voices of Basin family farmers and ranchers need to be heard, and we are grateful that Representative Cliff Bentz and Representative Doug LaMalfa gave our leaders the opportunity to share not only the plight of the people who live in the Klamath Basin, but also the impacts of the drought and Klamath Irrigation Project shut-offs are having on our environment and the wildlife that share this land with us.