FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 12, 2021
Paul Simmons, KWUA Executive Director and Counsel
KLAMATH WATER USERS ASSOCIATION: “WORST DAY IN THE HISTORY OF THE KLAMATH PROJECT”
Klamath Water Users Association today expressed grave disappointment with the announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation that no water is to be diverted at A Canal for irrigation in 2021.
“The first water delivery from the A Canal was in 1907. This is the first year ever it will deliver zero water,” said Paul Simmons, Executive Director and Counsel for KWUA.
A Canal, which diverts water from Upper Klamath Lake, normally provides water serving over 150,000 acres of productive farmland in Klamath County, Oregon and Modoc and Siskiyou Counties, California. The only land in the 200,000-acre Klamath Project that will receive any water at all from the Klamath River system is in Klamath Drainage District, which will have a severely limited supply. The remaining land in the Project is in Langell Valley and Horsefly Irrigation Districts, which rely exclusively on water from the Lost River system. They will have water for part of the summer only.
Although there is enough water in Upper Klamath Lake to supply all irrigation needs, current federal agency management of the Klamath Project is driven by allocation to fish species protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In past years of similar drought conditions, there have been full irrigation deliveries. This year, regulation under the ESA will result in essentially all water being retained in Upper Klamath Lake or released downstream for salmon in California.
“Water users are extremely upset with what the federal government is doing to us, and with good reason,” according to KWUA President Ben DuVal. “Taking water from Project irrigators for ESA species is a failed experiment that has produced no benefit for the species.”
“This just couldn’t be worse,” added Klamath Irrigation District President Ty Kliewer. “The impacts to our family farms and these rural communities will be off the scale.”
Mr. Kliewer noted that about 375,000 acre-feet of water will be released to provide flows in the Klamath River, most of which will be water that was stored in Upper Klamath Lake under an irrigation right.
“The flow in the Klamath River will be wildly more than would have occurred in nature or without the Klamath Project’s storage that was developed for irrigation,” he said. “Irrigators pay for this system but it is being operated for completely different purposes.”
KID Manager Gene Souza says the lack of water will damage Project infrastructure.
“The dried-out canals will crumble and crack,” said Mr. Souza. ”Significant animal damage to the infrastructure already occurring at an alarming rate. We will have expensive repairs to address before we can deliver water in the future. The negative environmental impacts of this decision will have long-lasting negative impact on our ground water, domestic wells, wildlife, culture, economy, and communities.”
Mr. DuVal, who farms in Modoc County, confirmed that there will be environmental and public health and safety impact as well.
“We’ve already had dust storms where you can’t see a hundred yards. That will get worse,” he predicts. “Also, lack of water in the delivery system will result in domestic wells going dry due to lack of recharge.”
Mr. Duval also expressed concern for mental health in the community.
“There is no avoiding the difficulties for individuals and families who are trying to cope,” he said.
Project farmers and ranchers have long co-existed with wildlife and national wildlife refuges that use water from the Project’s delivery system.
“Normally, we see and hear waterfowl, reptiles, and amphibians throughout the Project,” said Mr. DuVal. “With no birds, it will be the worst kind of quiet out here.”
KWUA is working with the Biden Administration and Congressional delegations from both Oregon and California to secure funding to attempt to mitigate the harm. Currently, the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency (DRA) expects to have $15 million available, but that is far short of the need.
“We need water, period,” said DRA board member Mike McKoen. “Unfortunately, we have to resort to going after funds to deal with this disaster.” Mr. McKoen also expressed appreciation to the Congressional delegation from Oregon and California: “we have their support, and they are doing what they can to help.”
Mr. Simmons said that KWUA and districts in the Project are committed to actions that will steer things in a better direction.
“There are important legal issues crying out for resolution,” he said. “ We also need a dose of common sense. The Project stored water is the only knob that can be turned, but that is not helping species. That has to hit home some day with federal decision-makers.”
DuVal restated the importance that the local response remain peaceful. “It’s important to communicate the devastation the Klamath Basin is experiencing. To be effective we need to pull together and help each other. We do not want our crisis to be hijacked for other causes. That will detract attention from our problem and diminish the voice of this community.”
To download a PDF version of this press release, click here.