OVER 60 YEARS OF REPRESENTING FARMERS AND
RANCHERS OF THE KLAMATH PROJECT

WaterWorks

May 2021 Issue 24

WORST DAY IN THE HISTORY OF THE KLAMATH PROJECT”

From a May 12 KWUA Press Release

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 the Klamath Drainage District (KDD), 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, the 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 (KID) 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 (AF) 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 is 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 a long-lasting negative impact on our groundwater, 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 impacts 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 someday with federal decision-makers.”

Mr. DuVal restated the importance that the local response remains 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.”

Congressman Bentz to Chair Drought Forum on May 19

On Wednesday, May 19, Republican Members of the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee will conduct a forum on western drought issues.  Congressman Cliff Bentz, Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife of the House of Representative’s Natural Resources Committee, will chair the forum. Klamath County Commissioner Donnie Boyd, well-versed in the combined impacts of drought and government regulation on Klamath Basin irrigation water, will be among the witnesses. 

The forum begins at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time

Click here to livestream the forum:

Click Here to read KWUA’s written testimony

In addition, the full subcommittee will have a drought hearing on May 25. KWUA will furnish information on that hearing next week.

Tri-County Meeting

On May 7, for the first time within memory, the Klamath County Board of Commissioners and the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors held a joint meeting. Twelve of the total of thirteen elected county officials were in attendance for the public meeting, held at the University of California, Davis’s Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake.

The meeting lasted nearly two hours. The commissioners and supervisors learned about the extreme hardships facing irrigators and irrigation districts in the Klamath Project and the compounding impacts and real-world practical problems that producers and operators are encountering this year.

The three counties’ governing boards each unanimously approved

two letters. One letter to members of Congress emphasizes the need for drought funding in the dire circumstances of 2021. The other identifies concerns with portions of a letter to President Biden that several organizations sent on April 16, particularly those elements of the April 16 letter that were unfamiliar topics or unclear but suggested major retirements of irrigation water rights in the Upper Klamath Basin.

KWUA is grateful for the counties for conducting the meeting and, even more, for their ongoing and tireless efforts in this time of crisis.

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 May 12, 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

On May 12, Reclamation informed Project water users that there are to be no diversions from A Canal in 2021. Reclamation stated the “Project Supply” (water diverted from Upper Klamath Lake during the irrigation season) remains at 33,000 AF, the amount announced in April, but that Reclamation anticipates that KDD will divert a volume under its state right that is almost all the original 33,000 AF Project Supply, leaving only 3,000 AF of Project Supply. Reclamation stated that this is not enough even to charge the A Canal system and that for this and other reasons, there could be no diversions from A Canal. Reclamation met with districts to discuss this issue and potential diversion of the 3,000 AF from points of diversion other than A Canal.

Reclamation anticipates that there will 20,000 AF to 25,000 AF from each of Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir for the eastside of the Project. This is far short of need, and Langell Valley and Horsefly Irrigation Districts each expect to run out of water during the summer.

KPDRA Report

The Klamath Project Drought Response Agency (DRA) board met on May 12 to discuss language that Reclamation wants to have included in the DRA’s Grant Application and to obtain Reclamation approval of the program. One critical item was the consideration of language stating that the contract between Reclamation and DRA would require no payment to a water user in a district that does not comply with the Reclamation 2021 operations plan. The DRA previously rejected the idea but on May 12 concluded it has no realistic choice. It reluctantly accepted the language, with some beneficial modifications. Reclamation announced that there will be $15 million available from Reclamation for the DRA, which Reclamation plans to fund in June.

At this time, the only possibility for additional funding from the Department of the Interior would be through the re-programming of funds from other activities that have received appropriations. In this case, the necessary re-programming would be what is called “four corners re-programming” (which requires notification to specific members of Congress and committees, who can object). KWUA is continuing to advocate that action and to advocate funding through Commodity Credit Corporation.  If those alternatives do not succeed, it would likely be necessary to pursue a supplemental appropriation if possible.

In addition, KWUA has sent a letter, jointly with Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Water Resources Congress (OWRC), requesting other types of funding for irrigators and districts in Klamath County, both inside and outside the Klamath Project.

Executive Director’s Report

At KWUA’s May, 12, regular board meeting, Executive Director Paul Simmons reported on several items discussed elsewhere in this newsletter. He also covered the following.

Litigation Update

Yurok Tribe, et al. v. Reclamation and NMFS

The Yurok Tribe and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations filed litigation against Reclamation and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) during the summer of 2019. In April of 2020, the litigation was stayed, presumptively until October 1, 2022, subject to the parties being allowed to move for the lifting of the stay if Reclamation deviates from

the “Interim” operations plan that was intended to be in effect through the end of the 2022 irrigation season.

At its April 2, 2021, special meeting, the KWUA board authorized that KWUA file a motion to lift the stay and to pursue a motion for summary judgment on certain claims. The motion for summary judgment, which would be considered only if the stay were lifted, turns on issues related to discretion under the ESA and Reclamation’s obligations and authorities with regards to water stored in Upper Klamath Lake. In essence, the motion for summary judgment asks that the court deny the plaintiffs’ claims that Reclamation should provide more water because of issues related to Reclamation’s authority and discretion under the ESA and because the ESA does not require Reclamation to release stored water for non-irrigation uses. On April 19, KWUA filed the motion to lift the stay and lodged the motion for summary judgment. There have been discussions with other parties about whether they will oppose lifting the stay and how the case might move forward if the stay is lifted.

Klamath Tribes v. Reclamation

In litigation the Klamath Tribes filed on April 13, the United States District Court for the District of Oregon (Judge McShane) denied the Klamath Tribes’ motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. It is uncertain whether there will be further activity in the case because it is focused on 2021 Upper Klamath Lake elevations, and it is unlikely that there will be further hearings any time soon.

KID v. OWRD; KID v. Reclamation

The last significant event in KID’s lawsuit against the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) is OWRD’s issuance, on April 6, of an order to Reclamation directing that Reclamation stop the release or use of stored water for purposes not recognized in a water right. The order also includes an “off-ramp” of sorts, in that the order does not relieve Reclamation from complying with obligations under federal law. There is no public information about what may occur next in the case.

Also, in April, KID filed an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction in Klamath County Circuit Court in the Klamath Basin Adjudication proceeding. The motion seeks an order requiring (paraphrasing) Reclamation to stop releasing stored water for non-water-right purposes unless and until it obtains a stay of the Amended and Corrected Findings of Fact and Order of Determination.  Under a procedure available to federal agencies, Reclamation removed that motion/case to the federal district court for the district of Oregon (Judge Aiken). KID subsequently filed a motion to remand the matter to state court. The hearing on that motion will take place on May 19.

Water Right Transfers to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

In recent months, the KWUA board has discussed 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, one ranch filed an application for a temporary transfer of water rights to the LKNWR. The application, which OWRD has publicly noticed, seeks to transfer the full authorized duty of water (approximately 4,400 AF), under a priority of October 14, 1864. Related, earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a draft environmental assessment (EA) to provide coverage under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for transfer of up to 30,000 AF to LKNWR. KWUA submitted comments on the draft EA.

Deputy Director’s Report

Drought and Water Shortage

Mark Johnson discussed actions that KWUA is pursuing for drought relief beyond the requests for more federal funding for the DRA. These efforts have been in coordination with Klamath, Modoc, and Siskiyou Counties, Oregon Farm Bureau, OWRC, and others.

KWUA sent a letter to Governor Brown jointly with the Oregon Farm Bureau and OWRC requesting drought assistance in Klamath County, both on and off-Project. [Click here for link] The requests included O&M reimbursement, domestic well mitigation, power cost assistance, and others. 

Mr. Johnson also referenced the potential work projects for farmworkers that Klamath County has identified. KWUA will help with any publicizing of the program if it gets up and running.

Potential winter-run Chinook ESA Listing Comments

In March, NMFS noticed a 90-day finding on a petition to list the Southern Oregon and Northern California Coastal spring Chinook salmon. This Evolutionarily Significant Unit (ESU) ranges from Southern Oregon to the Klamath River up to the confluence of the Trinity River. The spring-run Chinook above the confluence are the Upper Klamath River/Trinity River (UKTR) Chinook. KWUA submitted comments on the petition to list the UKTR spring-run Chinook back in 2018, and there still has not been a decision made to warrant a listing as of today. Overall, the SONCC spring-run Chinook listing affects the Rogue Valley folks more than the Klamath Basin irrigators. 

Submissions on the petition were due May 17. KWUA has been in communication with the California Farm Bureau, Rogue Valley irrigators, OWRC, and timber interests on this issue.

Upper Klamath Lake Sucker Update

Approximately 15 percent of adult Lost River suckers in Upper Klamath Lake spawn at springs entering a few locations on the east side of the lake. All other Lost River suckers, and all shortnose suckers, spawn in tributaries of Upper Klamath Lake. As of May 5, which is typically when total numbers start to decline rapidly, the number of Lost River suckers spawning at springs in Upper Klamath Lake was only 77 percent of the total number in 2020. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the reduction was split evenly between males and females. Detections at the springs from 2016-2020 have declined 4-14 percent annually for female Lost River suckers and 11-18 percent for male Lost River suckers.

Ag Economics Update

Mr. Johnson has been coordinating with Brian Charlton, Director of the Oregon State University Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center, to update the analysis of the contribution of agriculture to Klamath Basin economics. The most recent analysis of this kind was completed in 2012, and we are looking to update the analysis, which will also help paint the most accurate picture of the impacts of curtailments on the communities of the Klamath Basin.

Drought Mitigation Activities 

KWUA has been actively pursuing programs and/or funding to bring drought relief beyond DRA funds to the Klamath Project producers. These efforts have been in coordination with the Modoc and Siskiyou County Supervisors, Klamath County Commissioners, Oregon Farm Bureau, OWRC, and others. 

KWUA, jointly with Oregon Farm Bureau and OWRC, recently sent a letter to Governor Brown asking for various forms of drought assistance to producers in Klamath County, both inside and outside the Klamath Project. These requests include district O&M reimbursement, domestic well mitigation, and pumping cost reimbursement. 

Mr. Johnson has been coordinating with districts regarding various groundwater issues.

Mr. Johnson is also coordinating with local agencies regarding job opportunities for unemployed or underemployed farm employees. KWUA will not be on point for any such activity but will help communicate information. 

D.C Report–

The Ferguson Group

KWUA’s representatives are in continual contact with the Congressional delegation and Administration regarding funding for the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency and other needs for irrigators.  KWUA has also submitted appropriations requests to Senate offices for funding of certain activities in fiscal year 2022.

The Administration has unveiled a 15-page fact sheet regarding President Biden’s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan proposal, the second portion of his wide-ranging infrastructure and economic agenda (this follows his $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan, which was first unveiled on March 31). In all, the American Families Plan includes $1.8 trillion in investments and tax credits for American families and children over the next ten years. It consists of about $1 trillion in investments and $800 billion in tax cuts for American families and workers.

On drought, the Administration has announced the formation of an Interagency Working Group to address worsening drought conditions in the West and support farmers, Tribes, and communities impacted by ongoing water shortages. The Working Group will be co-chaired by the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to build upon existing resources to help coordinate across the federal government, working in partnership with state, local, and tribal governments to address the needs of communities suffering from drought-related impacts. With water allocations at historic lows in many areas across the West, including the Klamath and Colorado River Basins, the White House said there is an urgent need to minimize the impacts of the drought and develop a long-term plan to facilitate conservation and economic growth. The Working Group will work to identify immediate financial and technical assistance for impacted irrigators and Tribes.

On infrastructure, the White House is holding a series of high-level bipartisan meetings with congressional leaders of both parties and chambers as well as Senators who lead committees of jurisdiction over traditional infrastructure. Broadly speaking, the GOP and the White House remain far apart on three key aspects of infrastructure negotiations: (1) definition of “infrastructure”; (2) spending levels – GOP’s proposing $600-800 billion; Democrats, as high as  $2.2 trillion; and (3) how to pay for it (GOP favors user fees; Democrats repealing the 2017 corporate and high-income earners rate cuts). These meetings are intended to explore whether the two sides can break the partisan logjam over these three areas.

Honoring Don Russell, Klamath Project Leader, Champion, and Friend

With great sadness, we say goodbye and rest in peace to Don Russell, who passed away on April 29, 2021, at his home. With great pride, we note that Don was a past President of the Board of Directors of KWUA.

Don was an active and integral part of life in the Klamath Project and irrigated agriculture over a period of nearly 60 years. He worked for each of Tulelake, Enterprise, Langell Valley, and Horsefly Irrigation Districts, in three of those cases as district manager. He was a loving father, grandfather, and great-grandfather and a friend to many.

Don was an articulate, riveting speaker and could turn a phrase with the very best of them. His family wrote that “he was honored being President of Water Users, Oregon Water Association, Fisheries Restoration, and Oregon Water Resource Congress 1912-2012.”

He will be forever missed in our hearts and in our community. KWUA is blessed to have Don in the Klamath Project “water family” and will truly miss his knowledge, insight, and friendship.

In the Know

· KWUA was awarded a Clean Water Act section 319 grant through the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to help facilitate the planning efforts for a TMDL Stewardship Agreement.

· 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. 

Upcoming Meetings

· Klamath Drainage District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on May 20 @ 1:00 pm at the KDD office

· Klamath Irrigation District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on June 11 @ 1 pm at the KID office

· Tulelake Irrigation District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on June 14 @ 8 pm at the TID office

· Klamath Project Drought Response Agency will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on June 11 @ 11 am in the KWUA boardroom

· KWUA will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on June 11 @ 2 pm in the KWUA boardroom

· Pioneer District Improvement Co. will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on June 7 @ 5:30 pm

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