KWUA Water Works, June 2021 Issue 25

kwua header
KID Director of Logistics & Water Deliveries, Fritz Frisendahl in dry field.
Fritz Frisendahl, Klamath Irrigation District Director of Logistics & Water Deliveries, demonstrates what a ZERO water supply looks like.

Despite No Water for Irrigation, Farmers are Taking Unprecedented Action to Save Ducks and Create Healthy Bird Habitat

Farmers hurting from a lack of irrigation water are … scrambling to save ducks. For the first time in over 100 years, the family farm operations in the 65,000-acre Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) will receive no water for irrigation from Upper Klamath Lake or the Klamath River.  Despite the extreme hardship on their own lives, families, and communities, the farmers, through TID, are taking unprecedented action to remove standing water from a large, stagnant lake (called Sump 1A) in order to benefit waterfowl.

This never-before-tried draining of the 9,500-acre Sump 1A is intended to:

· Prevent or greatly diminish disastrous, duck-killing botulism outbreaks that are otherwise expected

· Provide water to adjacent land to irrigate grain that will be left in fields to provide food for waterfowl

· Restore healthy wetland function to the 9,500-acre stagnant lake

TID is working in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Ducks Unlimited (DU), and Cal-Ore Wetlands in undertaking this innovative project.


The Lost River basin is a closed basin, meaning there is no natural outlet and water accumulates in its lowest spot.  The low spot is the Tule Lake sumps, Sump 1A and Sump 1B, which are within TID and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge (TLNWR).  The dominant source of water that maintains these sumps is return flow from up-gradient irrigated lands in both Oregon and California.  The farmland is irrigated with water from Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River.

Mao of the Tulelake Irrigation District
Map of Tule Lake Sumps

The Sumps, TID, and TLNWR are within the larger Klamath Project, a Bureau of Reclamation Project that provides water delivery for approximately 200,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Klamath County, Oregon, and Siskiyou and Modoc Counties, California, which is TID’s portion of the Klamath Project.

For generations, excess water in the sumps was pumped through a tunnel, to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (LKNWR), where it supported permanent and seasonal wetland habitats.  However, federal regulatory restrictions on irrigation diversions have resulted in “excess” water becoming almost a thing of the past, and in the meantime pumping costs have increased by 4,000 percent over the last 15 years.

Once productive wetlands supporting tremendous populations of waterfowl, the sumps have witnessed significantly decreased populations of ducks and other waterfowl.  One reason is the reduced population of ducks in the Pacific Flyway overall.  Another is the stability of the water levels in the sumps.  For physical and legal reasons, the water level in the sumps changes very little over the course of a year, reducing wetland productivity and function that results under a more dynamic system.

In 2020, irrigation water delivery for the Klamath Project was severely limited.  This deprived Sumps 1A and 1B of their typical water source.  There was essentially no circulation in the immense standing water area of Sump 1A, and air temperatures were unusually high.  Avian botulism occurs every year in the refuges, but the amount of mortality varies based on a number of factors.  In the summer of 2020, there was a massive outbreak of botulism on Sump 1A, and an estimated 60,000 ducks died.  TID Manager Brad Kirby proposed a plan for moving some water to Sump 1A that could have provided some circulation and water to ease the outbreak, but there was significant delay in obtaining approval of that plan.

This year, 2021, will be worse for farmers than last year, and could be worse for ducks in TLNWR as well.  For the first time ever, there will be no water at all available for diversion from Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River.  The reason is a combination of drought and regulatory restrictions under the Endangered Species Act. 

A botulism outbreak on Sump 1A has seemed all but certain, and could be even more severe than last year.


Even though local farms and TID will suffer severely because of the lack of irrigation water, they are taking unprecedented action to save ducks.

Specifically, TID and its partners have undertaken a plan to drain Sump 1A entirely.  Begun in April, the draining project is expected to take 120 days, which would result in the sump being dried up entirely by approximately August 2021.

This project will eliminate or vastly reduce the botulism threat on Sump 1A.  As much as possible of the water pumped out will be used to maintain wetland habitat in Sump 1B and provide depth of water in Sump 1B to attract ducks to a safer environment.  A very limited amount of water will irrigate some crops on adjacent fields that are within TLNWR, which will provide feed for birds.  And, when precipitation is adequate to reflood Sump 1A, the dynamic water management will lead to more productive wetland habitats.

Water being pumped from Sump 1A to Sump 1B on Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge by farmers and TID in an effort to save ducks from botulism.
Pumping from Sump 1A to Sump 1B

Draining of Sump 1A has never been done or attempted, nor is the necessary infrastructure in place to efficiently and effectively accomplish such an effort.  TID is planning and implementing on the go ,but using tried and true engineering techniques.  There will be challenges, there will be problems.  But overall it promises to be a win-win-win for ducks, made possible by farmers facing tragedy in their own communities who care deeply about the wildlife that is part of their lives.

Thank You Klamath Drought Response Agency, for doing a Thankless Job

Klamath Project  DRA board members are Paul Crawford, Jerry Enman, Luther Horsley, Mike McKoen, Luke Robison, Marc Staunton, and Rob Unruh
Thank you to the Klamath Project DRA board

The Klamath Project Drought Response Agency (DRA) Board of Directors is doing very difficult work, under very difficult conditions. The DRA board has had to struggle with too much uncertainty, too much demand, and not enough resources. These individuals donate countless hours of their time to doing the best that they can for the Klamath Project irrigation community.

The DRA board members are Paul Crawford, Jerry Enman, Luther Horsley, Mike McKoen, Luke Robison, Marc Staunton, and Rob Unruh.

Media Flurry

Paul Simmons talking to a reporter about the water crisis in the Klamath Irrigation Project.

In the past few weeks, the Klamath Project has received an extraordinary amount of attention from media outlets.  The primary cause is the May 12 announcement that zero water will be available through A Canal this year.  We do not crave that attention or that circumstance.  Unfortunately some media, especially reporters who do not visit the Project personally, seem to adopt a negative narrative at the beginning and stick with it.  Others come to understand the people who live and work here, their love for the land and family, their creativity and careful use of water, and respect and innovations benefitting the wildlife that share this place.

Outlets that have covered the Project situation have included Associated Press, CNN, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Klamath Falls Herald and News, News Nation, Nat Geo, Capitol Press, Greenwire, Jefferson Public Radio, RFD TV and Rural Radio, The Atlantic, CCRShow and AUN-TV, Swiss Public Radio, Central Oregon Daily News, Rutply News Agency (TV news outlet based in Germany), The Planet Magazine (Western Washington University student publication), New Republic Magazine, Inside Climate News, kohd ABC, Sharkfarmer podcast and Sharkfarmer Radio, News Nation, Bloomberg, KTVL News Channel 10, KOTI-TV, Eureka Times Standard, Algemeen Dagblad (the Netherlands), E&E Daily, USA Today, Ag Alert, Sacramento Bee, Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Empty irrigation canal on the Klamath Project. Photo by Chelsea Shearer.
Photo by Chelsea Shearer
Dry irrigation ditch near Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Photo by: Chelsea Shearer

What has KWUA been working on…

KWUA’s Board of Directors strives to keep member districts, their patrons, and other interested parties informed. Board members help with the dissemination of information received at our monthly board meetings, and staff produces a monthly newsletter.

The KWUA board held its regular business meeting on June 3, 2021.  Below is a recap of ongoing activities.  If you would like more in-depth information, we encourage you to contact your respective district board member, listed on our website.

Operations Committee Report

Gene Souza summarized hydrologic conditions as of the date of the board meeting.  He also explained to the board the method the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) is using to calculate storage releases versus live flow releases and especially the treatment of evaporation as being from stored water.  He also discussed information shared at a recent meeting with OWRD regarding groundwater levels and trends.  He stated that OWRD is closely watching the basin and obviously 2021 is a year when there will be significant demand on the groundwater resources due to unavailability for diversion of water that is in the system.  He also discussed FASTA slides showing updates on Klamath River Chinook health and sucker spawning in Klamath Lake. 

Executive Director’s Report

Power – KWUA has hired power industry consultant Lloyd Reed for various tasks, most significantly to prepare a plan for implementing actions identified in the “Affordable Power Measures” report completed early in 2020.  Mr. Reed has delivered a proposed “KWUA Power Cost Reduction Implementation Plan” updated draft.  The power committee will meet to discuss the plan with Mr. Reed, which will, or should lead to recommendations for the full board at the July meeting.

Funding to Address 2021 Conditions – Irrigators want to farm and produce and that is KWUA’s most important concern.  But, necessarily, efforts to secure funding are a very high priority for KWUA, given that this will be the worst year ever for Klamath Project supply.  At this time, the funding available to the DRA is the $15 million that we have known about since mid-April.  It is still possible that there will more funding, from either federal or state governments, but we have no definite indications that will occur.

More DRA Funding Under Current Authorities – KWUA is working on two possible ways that the DRA could receive additional federal funds without congressional action appropriating more funds.  The first is “four corners” reprogramming within the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), which could move funds that Congress has appropriated for one activity to another activity (in this case, to DRA programs).  This is by no means simple or easy, and it cannot occur unless the Department of the Interior also notifies the leadership of four congressional appropriations committees and gives them a chance to object.

The second alternative that KWUA has identified is funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with the source potentially the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).  This raises questions of policy and legal authority that are sometimes difficult to separate.  But if those obstacles can be overcome, the possible avenues would be either use of CCC’s general authorities or reliance on funds under one of the COVID packages that has been enacted over the last year.  The impacts of two years of severe water shortage on top of a baseline of COVID impacts to all levels of the agricultural production and distribution system are strong justifications for assistance.

Federal Disaster Relief Legislation – Congress could enact new legislation and appropriations to provide funding to the DRA, or otherwise offer relief.  Representatives Bentz and LaMalfa have announced that they will introduce this sort of legislation in the House of Representatives.  A May 18, 2021 press release from Representatives LaMalfa and Bentz, describes the elements that they propose for a disaster relief bill.  Related to Project irrigators, those measures include $40 million for DRA funding and $4.5 million for repair of canal damage, $2.5 million for residential well assistance, and reimbursement of operation and maintenance (O&M).  KWUA is working with other organizations in the basin to recommend additional needs or to fine-tune the announced approach.

In an ideal world, that legislation would be introduced and enacted promptly.  It would be necessary to garner bi-partisan support and, in light of pervasive western drought and other issues, it may be challenging to advance a “Klamath only” legislative measure.

State Funding – KWUA, jointly with Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Water Resources Congress, has asked Governor Brown to cover or reimburse certain costs in Klamath County this year (including both inside and outside the Project).  TID and individuals in TID have also been in contact with their representatives in the California Legislature.  In general, as related to the Klamath Project, these requests pertain to reimbursement of O&M payments, payment of pumping costs, and domestic well mitigation. 

Funding for 2022 DRA Programs – The nature or scope of any DRA programs in 2022 is uncertain.  However, KWUA has made a formal request to Congress for $20 million in funding through Reclamation for DRA programs in 2022.

Potato field on the Tule Lake Leaselands. Photo by Chelsea Shearer.
Refuge Farming- Photo by: Chelsea Shearer

Lease Revenues – KWUA recently met with DU, who emphasized that they would really like to see net lease land revenues become available for purposes other than the federal treasury.  Under current statutes and contracts, the three counties get a share of net revenues (in lieu of taxes); TID receives 10 percent of the net revenues from lease lands in that district, and the rest goes to Reclamation, much of it as a credit toward future new construction costs in the Tule Lake Division.  As KWUA understands things, in Reclamation’s accounting, there is currently estimated to be about $80 million in credit to the Tule Lake Division for future construction costs.  It is not simple to access that money or any future net revenues beyond those committed to TID and the counties.  That said, there is an appeal to keeping the money “home.”

Litigation – The status of all litigation of interest is the same as reported in KWUA’s May newsletter.  KWUA has entered into stipulations with the other parties in the Yurok Tribe lawsuit in San Francisco to delay further briefing on KWUA’s motion to lift a stay of litigation filed by the Yurok Tribe in 2019, with the goal being to reach agreement on lifting of the stay and the issues that will be litigated. 

Reinitiated Consultation – The “hydro team” continues to meet regularly, which will be a topic of the operations committee report.  KWUA has sent memoranda to Reclamation and others expressing concerns over regulatory issues, but there have not been any substantive responses.

Refuge Transfers – In recent months, KWUA board meeting topics have included the potential for temporary transfers of water rights from one or more ranches in the Wood River Valley to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (LKNWR).  On April 20,2021, the Thomas Family Limited Partnership filed an application for the temporary transfer of water from its ranch to the LKNWR.  The application, which has been publicly noticed by OWRD, seeks to transfer the full authorized duty of water (approximately 4,400 acre-feet) under a priority of October 14, 1864.  The KWUA board previously identified criteria that must be satisfied before KWUA can be neutral on any such transfer, and KWUA staff has communicated those criteria to the involved parties many times. At this time, those criteria have not been satisfied. Thus May 7, KWUA filed comments on the proposed transfer, opposing the transfer as currently proposed: the primary reason is that transfer and diversion of the full “paper” water right would require that irrigation supplies be reduced in order to subsize the transfer.  This is because, so long as there are minimum Klamath River flows and minimum Upper Klamath Lake elevations that must be met, diversion of more water than is currently consumed at the place of use for the transferor parcel will take more water out of the system than currently occurs.

As a related matter, KWUA also participated in a meeting with attorneys and managers from the Oregon Water Resources Department, Reclamation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service related to the existing Barnes and Agency Ranches temporary water right transfers to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. 

Pelicans in flight in the Klamath Basin. Photo by Chelsea Shearer.
LKNWR- Photo by: Chelsea Shearer

Deputy Director’s Report

Winter-Run Chinook salmon – The National Marine Fisheries Service recently noticed a 90-day finding on a petition to list the Southern Oregon and Northern California Coastal (SONCC) spring Chinook salmon.  This Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU) ranges from Southern Oregon to the Klamath River at the confluence of the Trinity River.  The spring-run Chinook above the confluence are the Upper Klamath River/Trinity River Chinook.  The latter are in the process of potential listing as well.  Overall, a SONCC spring-run Chinook listing would likely affect the Rogue Valley irrigation interests more than the Klamath Basin irrigators. 

On May 17, KWUA submitted comments on the proposed listing. KWUA’s comments primarily pertain to the regulatory protections that are currently in place for the SONCC coho salmon (timber management, critical habitat, roads, and mining),  which are largely protective of the SONCC spring-run Chinook.  The comments also focused on the fact that the spring-run gene has not been lost and can readily re-emerge.  This is described in a scientific paper that was published in 2019.  This study contradicts the previous literature on which the petition to list the Upper Klamath

Trinity River spring-run was based, which suggests that the gene takes thousands of generations to re-emerge. 

We coordinated with the California Farm Bureau, Oregon Farm Bureau, Oregon Water Resources Congress, Rogue Valley irrigators, and timber interests in the preparation of the comments. 

Klamath River Chinook Response to Environmental Variables Analysis – The board approved the proposed scope of work and budget for the completion of a thorough analysis of all environmental variables that may influence Chinook survival on the Klamath River.

Ag Economist to Update Basin Economic Data – Brian Charlton, Director of the Oregon State University Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center, and Mark Johnson recently met with highly respected agricultural economists to discuss the needs and timelines for an economic analysis of the contribution of agriculture in the Klamath Basin.  The consultants have prior experience in the Klamath Basin.  The Klamath County Chamber of Commerce, Counties Commissioners and Supervisors, and the business community all support this analysis.  KWUA wants this work to be a solid, credible paper and hopes for a collaborative effort from Oregon State University and UC Davis in the peer-review process.  This analysis will be Project-focused and include Modoc and Siskiyou Counties.  It was also discussed to have a refuge component as well.  KWUA is working on fundraising for the study and does not currently anticipate use of KWUA’s own funds.

Integrated Fisheries Restoration and Monitoring Plan (IFRMP) Update – The IFRMP utilizes the best available science to develop basin-scale goals and objectives to prioritize restoration activities and fisheries monitoring in the Klamath Basin.  There has been little communication over the past few months as the ESSA group continued to work on the draft plan.  On May 27, Mark Johnson attended a Phase 4 webinar to discuss participant roles in the upcoming weeks.  Mark participates in the Fish Habitat and Connectivity subgroup, Upper Basin workgroup, and Cost Validation subgroup for the Upper Basin.  These groups will require several hours of “homework” and several more hours of webinars in the next few weeks.  Mark will continue to be engaged as this is a reasonable effort with many of the same stakeholders.  For more information on the IFRMP, visit https://kbifrm.psmfc.org/.

D.C Report– The Ferguson Group

Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) continues to work with the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to secure funding to address this year’s severe water curtailment.  We anticipate the agencies will make decisions very soon. KWUA has continued to coordinate with the Congressional delegation from both states and the Administration on all issues of interest, and recently met with Elizabeth Klein, Senior Counselor to Secretary Deb Haaland. Ms. Klein (Liz) is the Department of the Interior’s point policy person for Klamath Basin issues.

House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife (WOW) Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman (D-CA) reintroduced his “Future Western Water Infrastructure and Drought Resiliency (FUTURE) Act,” H.R. 3404. The bill includes more than $1 billion in new authorized funding  for various water programs, including $750 million for multi-benefit water storage projects, $500 million for water recycling and reuse, and $260 million for water desalinization projects. The bill includes provisions to boost water technology and data collection, as well as ecosystem protection and restoration.

The WOW Subcommittee also recently held an oversight hearing discuss the current Western U.S. drought where nearly 90% of the West is now experiencing drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and the problem is particularly acute in the Southwest, central California, and in the Klamath Basin in Oregon and California. Ms. Klein told the subcommittee the Biden Administration was tasking “all agencies across the federal government” to identify ways they could provide additional drought aid through a new drought partnership between the Interior and Agriculture departments.

In the Senate, the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee has reported to the full Senate several important Interior nominees. Mr. Robert Anderson, nominated for the job of Interior’s Solicitor, was approved on an 11-9 vote, aided by the support of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). The Committee then approved by voice vote Ms. Tanya Trujillo’s nomination as Assistant Secretary for Water and Science – which oversees the Bureau of Reclamation —  and Ms. Shannon Estenoz’s nomination as assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks – which oversees the US Fish and Wildlife Service. 

And the Biden Administration has released their detailed $6 trillion FY 2022 budget request to Congress that prioritizes climate change, clean energy, and green infrastructure investments. The “whole of government” climate focus is unprecedented in the nation’s history and is likely to please progressives and environmental groups that were disappointed reductions under previous budgets.  The Biden budget also could find some support from Republicans who are increasingly supportive of clean energy investments, although plans to propose raising taxes on fossil fuel companies will face opposition from the GOP.

DRA Report

The DRA board met on Jun 9, and approved opening up applications despite a formal grant being in place.  A major recent concern in the grant has been language being insisted on by Reclamation related to ineligibility for patrons of districts that do not operate consistent with Reclamation’s 2021 temporary plan.  At this time, there will be a No Irrigation Program and ideally a Domestic Well Mitigation program mirrored after the 2020 program. 

Applications will be accepted from June 10-July 30, until 5 pm. Applications can be obtained on their website at www.klamathwaterbank.com.

Both the KWUA and DRA boards are concerned with the number of already-reported domestic wells running dry, along with the anticipation of many more.  We are seeking additional funding from federal, state, and local governments, but we have no clear indications that will occur.  We will continue to work with or local commissioners and state representatives for funding opportunities and a source to administer those funds.

In The Know

· KWUA is planning the 2021 Fall Harvest Tour for early Fall.  If you are interested in sponsoring the event, please contact the office at 541-883-6100.

· The DRA’s No Irrigation Program is now open and accepting applications from June 10-July 30, until 5 pm.  Applications may be obtained on their website at www.klamathwaterbank.com.

· KWUA offers notary services. Chelsea Shearer is a certified Notary Public and KWUA offers her notary services free to all members and patrons of member districts. To schedule an appointment with Chelsea, call the office at 541-883-6100. 

· KWUA offers meeting room facilities for member districts, Monday–Friday 8am- 5pm based on availability. To schedule a meeting, call the office at 541-883-6100.