Klamath Water Users Association Hosts the 13th Annual Fall Harvest Tour
By Chelsea Shearer
The annual highlight for me in my position at KWUA is the Fall Harvest Tour. We meet new people, show off the industry and ingenuity of the agricultural community, and help tour participants understand the marvels and challenges of agriculture and its importance to the economy and community.
This year, that opportunity was very different. The Klamath Project experienced an unprecedented, absolute water curtailment, and many producers faced harvest time but no harvest. COVID-19 added to the unhappy circumstances.
In spite of limitations, the KWUA board chose to go ahead with the tour, show and tell it like it is, and take the appropriate safety and public health precautions. It was painful, knowing that our
members were in turmoil, but the KWUA board was committed that the harvest (time) tour would go forward.
This year, 48 people joined us for the tour, which is at no cost to participants, thanks to our generous sponsors. Tour participants are provided transportation via a tour bus, lunch, and a chance to hear first-hand from men and women in agriculture. This year’s participants included Klamath Falls Mayor Carol Westfall, Klamath County Commissioner Derrick DeGroot, staff members from the offices of Oregon Congressman Cliff Bentz, California Senator Brian Dahle, Klamath= County Commissioners and Siskiyou County Supervisors, Oregon State University and U.S. Department of Agriculture staff members, as well as community members and news media.
This year’s tour focused on some things that worked and the many things that did not work. We highlighted producers and businesses and public agencies that have struggled to make it through the year. While continuing to celebrate and show off our amazing industry, we heard harsh truths about what has happened to good people and businesses, our valued wildlife resources, and the infrastructure that we depend upon.
To start the day, participants were greeted by breakfast burrito-bearing KWUA staff, and heard about the history and operation of the Klamath Project from Executive Director Paul Simmons.
Near Klamath Irrigation District’s (KID) office, tour participants heard from KID Manager Gene Souza and Director of Operations Jaxsen Sikorski, who described the challenges this year of running an irrigation district with no irrigation water. Gene discussed current and upcoming maintenance challenges and expense associated with hundreds of miles of dewatered canals and drains that are clogged with weeds, cracked, damaged by animal burrows, and overall deterioration—problems that were readily observable in the A and B Canals. Years ago, KID invested in clean, renewable energy by constructing a hydropower facility at the C-Canal drop. That facility has now gone two years with no water (there was water, but not enough to operate the facility, in 2020), no revenue, and no clean, renewable power generated.
On the brighter side, some members of the Cal-Ore cooperative had a potato harvest because they had access to groundwater. Cal-Ore was in the process of loading organic potatoes into large wooden boxes carefully chosen to ensure ultimate delivery of the best product to consumers. Marc Staunton’s potatoes are sold in bulk to companies such as Walmart and Whole Foods. Marc and employee Guadalupe Cervantes spoke about the lack of irrigation water and how that has affected them, their families and neighbors.
The tour group then proceeded to a potato field where the crop was actively being harvested, some of us gleaning a few of our own at the ends of rows.
Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) Manager Brad Kirby spoke to the group about the extraordinary steps TID has undertaken this year to save migratory birds. The massive effort involved the elimination of botulism-promoting shallow water from a 9000- acre area, which has resulted in exposure of land that has been under water for millennia. When it is re-flooded, there will be new, productive wetland growth. See KWUA’s Waterworks, June Issue (“Despite no water for Irrigation, farmers are taking unprecedented action to save ducks and create healthy bird habitat”).
Wimena Lodge graciously hosted lunch. Ian McGregor, an OSU Assistant Professor and coordinator for Livestock & Irrigation, spoke about the resources OSU has that can benefit producers and crops in the basin. April Snell, Executive Director of the Oregon Water Resources Congress, spoke to the group about her activities in Salem and Washington, DC, on behalf of irrigation in Oregon.
On the way back north toward Klamath Falls, participants on the bus heard from Jason Flowers, the President of both Klamath County Farm Bureau and Klamath Drainage District. Jason discussed the interesting history and unique
circumstances of farming in the Lower Klamath Lake area, and unique challenges that he and his neighbors face this year.
Last, the group visited Kliewer Cattle Ranch. Here we were joined by KWUA board members and brothers Ty and Ry Kliewer, as well as Dayle Robnett from Diamond S Meats. They shared their personal stories about how the lack of surface water is taking its toll on their businesses and their families’ way of life. During the tour, Ry Kliewer told JPR reporter, Holly Dillemuth, “the amount of hay he was able to produce this year is just enough to feed his 25 cows this winter. Kliewer has had to tell long-time hay customers, he’s sorry but has no hay to sell them. In a competitive hay market, that hurts.”
“If they go somewhere else for their product, they are likely to not return . . . . We’re fracturing our sales relationships that we’ve had for decades.” Kliewer says he’s dipping into his savings from last year just to survive.
Dayle Robnett works behind the scenes of Diamond S Meats, her business with her husband and son. Dayle also shared their experiences of 2021. The pandemic has left the meat cases empty at times. They have had to purchase extra hay to feed the few head of cattle she has left, and that’s a cost that will increase over time. She emphasized that something has to change—we need irrigation water if this community is to survive.
The Kliewers have merged their creativity and ingenuity at Skyline Brewery, a former dairy barn on Ty’s property. They brew excellent beers, available at many regional restaurants, and are always generous to share their craft with visitors.
I am proud and humbled to work for these people, many of whom are friends. At KWUA we will continue to work to keep this community whole.
Please consider joining us next year for this unique view of the farming and ranching operations of the Klamath Basin. A huge thank you to the sponsors who funded the entire cost of the tour. Without them, we could not share this experience.
Remembering George Rajnus
KWUA mourns the passing of George Rajnus on September 24, 2021. Many who knew him will always remember his passion for life, God, and family (wife, son, daughter, stepchildren, and grandchildren), who meant everything to him. When George, always accompanied by his dog Boo, dropped by KWUA for a visit, we would light up.
During the last decade, George was a member of the KWUA Board of Directors as well as the Board President of Klamath Basin Irrigation District (KBID). During a 2019 interview with staff member Chelsea, George stated that he hoped that his son Nate would carry on his legacy and become the fourth generation of Rajnus farmers. George noted that he got involved with KWUA because Warren Haught told him to and said, “to be successful, you have to be in the know.” He chuckled when he said he has been farming and ranching of what is now a life sentence, with no escape.
George and his son farmed over 900 acres in the Klamath Project spread across multiple irrigation districts. The farm focused on potatoes, grain and hay; in drier years, he would plant wheat.
George enjoyed hunting and fishing with his family. He was not shy about sharing his “proud dad” photos. He was a barrel of laughs and took every opportunity to share his passion for the Lord and his displeasure with the government. When asked, he stated that he was part of KWUA “to preserve our heritage and to feed the nation.”
In 2020, George began a battle with cancer. In a short visit in August 2021 with KWUA staff, he stated it had been rough, he had his good days and his bad, but was at peace with it. May he rest in peace.
George will forever be missed in our community.
What has KWUA been working on . . . .
Operations Committee Report
Current Conditions – Gene Souza updated the board on hydrologic conditions with the use of tables and charts. On October 1, Upper Klamath Lake held over 40,000 acre-feet more than the sucker biological opinion’s end of September minimum. KID made a request on September 10 for some limited water delivery; the request was denied on September 27. The justification for denial was basically that Reclamation was pursuing conservative management. Gene noted that there are likely few or no coho in the mainstem Klamath River at this time.
Refuge Transfers– Gene also reviewed the details of the temporary transfer of water rights from the Thomas Ranch in the Wood River Valley to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. There is a five-year agreement; additionally, there is a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) that commits parties to ensure that diversion under the transfer does not exceed the amount of water freed up by non-irrigation of the Thomas Ranch. Some Upper Basin irrigators have filed litigation against the Oregon Water Resources Department for approval of transfer of the full face value of the water right. Paul Simmons discussed his communications with various parties on the transfer and said he would re-send to the board a copy of his letter from late August to the California Waterfowl Association.
Later, Paul stated that Mr. Thomas proposed a meeting with KWUA. A group was designated to participate in this meeting with Mr. Thomas: Ben DuVal, Ry Kliewer, Gene Souza, Brad Kirby, Scott White, and Rob Unruh or Nick Grounds. KWUA is coordinating the meeting date with Mr. Thomas.
Barnes-Agency Ranches Proposed Project— Gene also discussed the proposed Barnes-Agency restoration project, which would expand the area and volume of Upper Klamath Lake. Project irrigators’ most fundamental question and concern related to the proposed project is the potential effects on water supply for other purposes. KWUA requested that Reclamation have MBK Engineers evaluate impacts on water supply. Initial analysis has suggested there would be less water available under the proposed project. There is more work to be done before they are finished, but KWUA will provide comments on the environmental assessment that has been circulated, based on the hydrologic analysis we have received. Paul also stated that the National Marine Fisheries Service and tribes with salmon interests may have concerns about the proposed project, but he is not aware of anything definitive about that issue.
Waterfowl Groups for Upper Klamath Lake Water—An October 12, 2021 letter from multiple waterfowl organizations requests the immediate release of water for refuges. Board members stated their individual perspectives. No action was taken. Paul Simmons was directed to write a statement to “keep in the back pocket” including clarification of past years when late-season or fall diversions have occurred for irrigation or refuge use.
Hydro Team – The “Hydro Team” was convened to evaluate potential alternative operations for consideration in Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultation. The process has been put on hold for an indefinite period of time. This development itself is not concerning but does remind us that KWUA must be engaged with federal agencies regarding ESA re-consultation.
Executive Director’s Report
ESA Re-Consultation – Paul Simmons summarized his written report on this subject including that, unless there is a dramatic litigation development, the most important water issue by far is re-consultation. He reviewed the messaging that KWUA is providing for that process and restated the concern about others’ advocacy that the Interim Plan will be carried forward (with limited modification) after its current expiration date of September 30, 2022. He described other contacts with agency officials concerning this issue.
Funding —Paul’s written report provided a summary of opportunities and efforts for future federal funding. Paul also showed the board a potential five-year Klamath Project Drought Response Agency (DRA) funding plan. He has shared this with local and regional staff at Reclamation. It is believed to be consistent with Reclamation’s desires and would also be shared with the congressional delegation in hopes for some level of broad sign-off on a five-year, $50 million plan that would minimize the somewhat frantic efforts that we have gone through to seek and obtain funding. The proposal also adds $20 million over five years for fish and wildlife water benefits that would be based on the type of contracts the DRA had with Reclamation in 2018 and 2020. There was consensus that this proposed plan should be shared with the DRA board for its blessing. Paul will send to DC if the DRA board is in accord.
A more immediate issue is potential state funding from the Oregon Emergency Board. KWUA’s primary focus is funds for the reimbursement or future offset of assessments, which amounts to $8 million (Oregon districts only). The most recent news is that the Emergency Board may meet in mid-November, and state agencies are currently providing recommendations to the Governor’s office. Paul has been working with the Oregon Farm Bureau, Klamath County
Commissioner Kelley Minty Morris, an attorney for off-Project water users, and others to update and refine our previous letters, which will be sent shortly. Paul was also scheduled to be on a call with the Governor’s office about this issue. The off-Project requests total just over $16 million, and there is also a request for $4 million for domestic well mitigation, primarily within the Project.
Meeting with DOI Leadership– On October 19, KWUA representatives met with Shannon Estenoz, the Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Matthew Strickler (Deputy Assistant Director), Martha Williams, President Biden’s nominee for Director of USFWS, and several other officials in DC and in the west. KWUA reviewed its priorities, recommendations, and requests for the Biden Administration and had a positive discussion with these national policy leaders for ESA and refuges.
Deputy Director’s Report
Klamath River Chinook Analysis Update — Mark Johnson discussed a draft analysis that was received last week related to variables affecting Chinook salmon populations the Klamath River. The analysis was distributed to the science committee for review and comment. KWUA staff is to convene a group to discuss and provide feedback on the draft.
Klamath Lake/A Canal Sucker Update —The U.S. Geological Survey’s Upper Klamath Lake elevation/sucker survival analysis is near completion, with the final editing scheduled to be complete by October 22. The report will go out for internal peer review and be ready for journal submission shortly. The final analysis will be out to the public by January-March 2022.
Mark also provided a briefing on the September sucker salvage at the A Canal forebay. Reclamation crews captured 164 one- to two-year-old suckers. Three suckers were recaptures from 2020.
Klamath Project Drought Response Agency Update
DRA Board President Marc Staunton reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) CARES program application period closed on October 25th. In total, 452 applications covering an estimated 181,000 acres were applied for. There are likely acres applied for that are not eligible, but that number is not yet known. DRA may have a special board meeting next week.
Klamath County Farm Service Agency is
Accepting Emergency Conservation
(Klamath Falls, Oregon), October 4, 2021 – U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Executive Director Laura Hall today announced that Klamath County is accepting applications for the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) to address damages from drought. ECP signup will begin on October 4, 2021, and end on December 3, 2021.
The approved ECP practice under this authorization is EC6: Drought Emergency Measures. This practice provides water conservation and enhancement measures to permit grazing of range, pasture, or forage by livestock, supply emergency water for existing irrigation systems serving orchards and vineyards and provide emergency water for confined livestock operations.
ECP assists producers with the recovery cost to restore the farmland to pre-disaster conditions. Approved ECP applicants may receive up to 75 percent of the cost of approved restoration activity. Limited resource, socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers may receive up to 90 percent cost-share.
The 2018 Farm Bill increased the payment limitation for ECP to $500,000 per disaster.
For more information on ECP, please contact the Klamath County FSA office at (541) 883-6924 x2 or visit farmers.gov/ recover.
The Washington DC Report – The Ferguson Group
KWUA and TFG continue to work with supporters on Capitol Hill and federal agencies on several issues. These include current Klamath Project operations’ concerns, identifying and securing potential additional federal sources of funding for infrastructure and drought, and addressing operational needs through legislation related to the potential dam removal on the Klamath River.
Regarding appropriations, the House and Senate have not completed their work on passage of the 12 traditional appropriations bill so a continuing resolution (CR) was needed to keep the government running past September 30, the last day of the fiscal year. The CR was passed and signed just before the beginning of the new fiscal year.
Of note, the CR also includes a significant disaster relief funding component which includes two items of interest to Klamath Project irrigators: $200 million for Reclamation to assist with drought relief, including in the Klamath Basin and Central Oregon, and $10 billion for the USDA to provide relief to agricultural producers impacted by drought, wildfire, smoke, and heat. Compensation under the $10 billion is expected to be available to farmers who were not able to plant in 2021.
Since the CR was passed, the Senate Appropriations Committee has released its remaining nine FY 22 appropriations bills for consideration and action by the Committee, including the bill funding the Interior Department—which also funds the USFWS. Included in the bill is reported language that states:
The Committee appreciates the Service’s ongoing efforts to recover endangered aquatic species, such as the C’wam, Koptu, and salmon, and restore critical habitat in the Klamath Basin, but is concerned with the health of the ecosystem. The Committee directs the Service to consider additional activities that could be undertaken to recover endangered and threatened species, restore habitat, and improve the health of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges with the funds provided in fiscal year 2022 and during the fiscal year 2023 budget formulation.
The Committee also encourages the Service to continue to coordinate with the Bureau of Reclamation where appropriate and consult with Tribes. Within Habitat Conservation, the Committee recommends $10,000,000 for Klamath River habitat restoration.
On the administrative front, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is proposing to restore a range of analysis requirements on federal agencies that the Trump Administration eliminated when it revised the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing rules. Phase 1 of the proposal would require agencies to analyze direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of major federal actions and allow agencies to be even more stringent than the CEQ rules in their implementing regulations. The broader Phase 2 of the proposal will follow in 2022. The proposed plan is slated for publication in the Federal Register in the coming days which will kick off a public comment process.
The two-phased approach is intended to allow the Biden Administration in Phase 1 to quickly revoke what it sees as the most problematic pieces of the Trump Administration’s broad rewrite of CEQ’s NEPA implementing rules in 2020 and allow time in Phase 2 to consider more wholesale changes to the rule.
Klamath Irrigation District will hold an election by mail for the purpose of electing a person to the board of directors on Tuesday, November 9, 2021.
The election by mail will be for one director position, representing Division Second of the five divisions in the District. The following candidates are eligible for election.
Division Second: Generally South & East of Old Midland Road & Tingley Lane Intersection, South of East-West line of Lost River Diversion Channel from Tingley Lant to Hwy 39 & North of Matney Way.
Jerry A Enman – Incumbent Candidate
Rodney Cheyne – Candidate
Three-year position until December 31, 2024
The polling locations for Division Second will be the Klamath Irrigation District office located at 6640 KID Ln, Klamath Falls, OR.
The polling location will be open from 7am to 8pm on Tuesday, November 9, 2021.
A member of Klamath Irrigation District, who is a qualified elector, residing and/or owning land from Division Second is eligible to vote for the director from that division.
Please contact the KID office at 541-882-6661, located at 6640 KID Ln, Klamath Falls, OR, to determine your voting eligibility.
In the Know
- 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 8 am-5 pm, based on availability. To schedule a meeting, call the office at 541-883-6100.
- KWUA Executive Director and Counsel Paul Simmons will give presentations to several groups during November: Oregon Water Law Conference (Nov. 5), REAL Oregon leadership class (Nov. 9), Willamette Law School, water law class (Nov. 12), and Klamath County Association of REALTORS (Nov. 19).
- Disaster Assistance LFP-Livestock Forage Disaster Program—The Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP) provides payments to eligible livestock owners and contract growers who have covered livestock and who are also producers of grazed forage crop acreage (native and improved pasture land with permanent vegetative cover or certain crops planted specifically for grazing) that have suffered a loss of grazed forage due to a qualifying drought during the normal grazing period for the county.
- LFP also provides payments to eligible livestock owners or contract growers who have covered livestock and who are also producers of grazed forage crop acreage on rangeland managed by a federal agency if the eligible livestock producer is prohibited by the federal agency from grazing the normal permitted livestock on the managed rangeland due to a qualifying fire. LFP is administered by the Farm Service Agency of USDA. For more information, call the local office at (541) 887-3495.
From Your Districts
- Klamath Irrigation District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on November 11 @ 10 am at the KID office
- Tulelake Irrigation District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on November 8 @ 10 am at the TID office
- Klamath Project Drought Response Agency will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on November 10 @ 10 am in the KWUA boardroom
- KWUA will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on November 10 @ 2 pm in the KWUA boardroom
- Klamath Drainage District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on November 18 @ 1 pm at the KDD office
- Pioneer District Improvement Co. will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on November 1 @ 5:30 pm