FAILED FEDERAL WATER POLICY WILL SHUT DOWN KLAMATH BASIN FOOD PRODUCTION FOR THE SECOND CONSECUTIVE YEAR
Reprint of KWUA April 11, 2022 Press Release
The federal government announced [on April 11]today that it will deprive highly fertile farms and ranches in the Klamath Basin of irrigation water necessary to produce food this year. The decision comes at a time of global food security fears, rapidly rising food prices, and concerns that grocery store shelves may become empty this year.
Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), which represents irrigation water users who produce food based on once-reliable irrigation water supplies from Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon’s largest surface water body, decried today’s announcement.
“We have 170,000 acres that could be irrigated this year and we’re ready to get to work,” said KWUA President Ben DuVal, who farms with his wife and daughters on land served by the Project. “On a single acre, we can produce over 50,000 pounds of potatoes, or six thousand pounds of wheat. This year, most of that land will not produce any food because the government is denying water for irrigation. We’ll just be trying to keep the weeds and dust under control.”
KWUA leaders said that there is adequate water available this year to provide irrigation from Upper Klamath Lake to the Klamath Project, a system of infrastructure that was built to deliver water to a community of family farms straddling the California-Oregon border. The Project provides water to some of the richest soils in the world. But federal regulators intend to deny irrigation water needed to produce food, at a time when the country and world most need it.
Rigid operating guidelines mandated by federal regulatory agencies mean that the Project’s family farms and ranches will have an uncertain amount of water, probably less than 15 percent of what they need, although producers will not finally know how much water they will have until it is far too late to plan their operations.
This federal policy comes on the heels of the federal government’s 2021 approach, when the government afforded zero water through Project facilities for irrigation for the first time in the 118-year history of the Project. The announced 2022 supply is the second-worst ever.
In today’s announcement of a 2022 Klamath Project Operations Plan, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation directed that water that could be used for irrigation or wildlife benefits will instead be used to artificially augment flows 40 miles downstream in the Klamath River, and to maintain specified elevations of water in Upper Klamath Lake.
In each case, the water will be dedicated to fish species based on regulatory commands of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). NMFS has authority related to coho salmon, considered a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and USFWS has authority related to Lost River suckers and shortnose suckers, both of which are listed as endangered under the ESA.
The federal agencies’ experiment of increasing water allocation to these ESA-listed species has been tried for 25 years in the Klamath Basin, yet there is no evidence this policy has benefitted the target fish populations.
“If we farmers failed as badly as the federal agency biologists who are controlling water policy, our bankers would have foreclosed on us 20 years ago,” said Mr. DuVal. “The regulators’ performance is unacceptable and should be embarrassing to federal decision-makers.”
KWUA Executive Director Paul Simmons said that NMFS’s requirements are egregious and out of balance. “Between now and the end of irrigation season, there will be about 210,000 acre-feet of inflow to Upper Klamath Lake,” he said. “But NMFS is telling Reclamation to release over 400,000 acre-feet of water down the Klamath River.”
To furnish that much water requires artificial supplementation of natural flow by releasing water that was stored behind a dam at the outlet of Upper Klamath Lake during the non-irrigation season.
KWUA leaders insist that NMFS’s regulatory demands are neither fair nor effective.
“It’s the world’s worst-kept secret that NMFS is using Klamath Project water to try to mitigate problems not caused by the Klamath Project,” said Mr. Simmons. “And when that doesn’t work, they just do it again, and then again.”
Although food producers in the Klamath Project are hamstrung, by regulatory demands, they share the concern that Pacific salmon stocks are struggling. “That’s bad for fishing communities and it’s bad for all of us,” said Mr. DuVal. A combination of many factors has affected fish populations, including a history of overfishing, sea lion predation, and ocean conditions. “I understand that it’s hard to regulate ocean conditions,” said Mr. DuVal. “But harming my family and destroying my community doesn’t fix ocean conditions and it doesn’t save fish.”
Project water shortage will also be exacerbated by USFWS’s stringent requirements for Reclamation to withhold water from the Project to maintain specified depths of water in Upper Klamath Lake. There is no evidence that regulation of irrigation supplies has yielded any benefit to sucker populations in Upper Klamath Lake.
Federal water policies’ negative impacts on food production comes at a time of global food security concerns, soaring prices at the grocery store, and fears of empty shelves. Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers are bracing for dust storms and resulting in poor air quality and other local environmental impacts that predictably arise when once-reliable surface water supplies are directed elsewhere by federal agencies.
In addition, in 2022, for the first time ever, two federal national wildlife refuges will go dry because water will be redirected to a few ESA-listed species. Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge both depend on water diverted and delivered by irrigation districts. Those critically important features of the Pacific Flyway for waterfowl are disabled.
“Under the current application of the ESA in the Klamath there are no winners,” former KWUA President Tricia Hill said in testimony before a congressional committee last month. “Only losers. And I cannot convey how heartbreaking it is to watch our basin—from its people to its environment to its wildlife—crumble around me.”
Reclamation also announced today that there will be $20 million available to help mitigate economic damage to farms that do not use irrigation water this year. While KWUA expressed its gratitude to its congressional delegation and the Commissioner of Reclamation for that funding, local irrigators lament that dollars cannot replace the loss of food production, jobs, and community stability directly caused by unbalanced federal water management policies.
Klamath Irrigation District President and KWUA board member Ty Kliewer said that his family and his neighbors cannot live through a repeat of last year. “Government mismanagement is causing this situation, period. Many of my fellow producers liquidated entirely last year, and I don’t know who will make it through this year. If the government doesn’t restore balance to water policy immediately, it will have wiped out this community of food producers, for nothing.”
Agencies Commit Water to Flow Experiment
In several recent years, the Bureau of Reclamation has operated Link River Dam to generate a “ surface flushing flow” in early spring. The purpose of the flushing flow is to mobilize fine organic sediment many miles downstream, below Iron Gate Dam, so as to disturb microscopic worms that host C. shasta, a salmon parasite. The practice of flushing reduces water available for irrigation and the wildlife refuges that rely on water from the Klamath Project.
The Problem and The Water Management Approach
An initial question is, why is there fine organic sediment in the river bottom and why does it require “flushing”? According to the State of California, this sediment predominantly comes from decaying algal biomass generated in PacifiCorp’s four hydroelectric reservoirs. And according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the accumulation of this sediment on the riverbed is the result of steady-state flows that have occurred since 2001, when Reclamation adopted minimum flow requirements derived from the work of Dr. Thomas Hardy (i.e., “Hardy flows”).
Setting aside the issue of the cause of the parasite problem, Project water users have asked whether the surface flushing flow is effective, whether it is an efficient use of water, and why it is or should be the responsibility of the Project to mitigate the parasite problem.
The 2022 Experiment
This year, the list of questions grew longer: it was physically impossible to provide the flow previously considered necessary to generate a surface flushing flow, but agencies committed water to a flushing experiment at the cost of other potential users of that water.
Studies relied on the past had determined that a flow between 5,000 and 8,700 cfs downstream of Iron Gate Dam is required to cause what geomorphologists refer to as “sediment transport”, meaning that at least 20 to 30 percent of the fine sediment is dislodged. Based on these studies, Reclamation has previously identified 6,030 cfs as the flow necessary to produce a “surface flush”.
This year’s flow event never exceeded 4,500 cfs downstream of Iron Gate Dam because there was not enough head pressure behind Link River Dam to release water any faster from Upper Klamath Lake. Federal agencies knew it would be impossible to accomplish conditions that they had previously considered necessary for a flushing flow, but they released water nonetheless, on a theoretical and experimental basis. Rather than release 6030 cfs for six days, there were two, short-term spikes inflows over a period of three days, but with flows never reaches the rate previously regarded as necessary.
Known Consequences of the Experiment
In total, Reclamation had over 25,000 acre-feet of water released from Upper Klamath Lake in this experimental event. The releases caused the lake, which was already more than two feet below full pool, to drop another three-tenths of a foot.
For context, 25,000 acre-feet is more than enough water to irrigate 10,000 acres on the Klamath Project and grow 50,000 tons of alfalfa hay or 600 million pounds of potatoes. That amount of potatoes can feed half a million Americans for a year.
Whether the flow has been effective in terms of preventing fish disease likely won’t be known for several months, by which time most farms in the Klamath Project will probably already be out of water.
Complex Issue vs. Blunt Instrument
Apart from the cause or causes of prevalence of C. shasta infection in salmon, apart from whether the Project should be looked to for mitigation of the problem, and apart from whether this year’s experiment will show positive results, there are questions about the sophistication of the approach of “more water” as a solution.
For starters, prior studies have found a strong correlation between juvenile salmon becoming infected with C. shasta and two environmental conditions: 1) water temperature; and 2) the concentration of C. shasta spores in the water. Generally, when spore concentrations are 20 spores per liter or less, the rate of infection is close to zero. Likewise, even at 20 spores per liter, water temperatures must be over 68 degrees Fahrenheit for infection to occur.
How do current conditions measure up against these criteria? So far this year, water temperatures downstream of Iron Gate Dam have never exceeded 52 degrees, and after the recent weather, are below 50 degrees. As for C. shasta spores, samples taken immediately before the flow event found concentrations of less than 20 spores per liter at three of the four sites sampled.
In addition to monitoring water temperatures and spore concentrations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also traps juvenile salmon to look for clinical signs of disease. Data from this monitoring is currently only available from the first week of March through the start of the experimental flow event. From that data, out of over 2,200 fish sampled, only two exhibited any clinical signs of disease. A subset of those fish also had their tissues sampled for the presence of C. shasta DNA. Out of 60 fish processed the week before the releases, only ten (17 percent) tested positive for the presence of C. shasta and in all those cases, the degree of infection was mild, which likely explains the lack of clinical signs of disease.
Given these known conditions, KWUA has inquired into the decision to nonetheless proceed with the experimental low event. The experimental flushing flow was apparently warranted because samples of worms showed levels of C. shasta infection at greater than one percent, and when this occurs this early in the year, there is believed to be a higher rate of juvenile salmon ultimately becoming infected. Although arguably somewhat intuitive, there are no published studies that have found this linkage, nor has Reclamation ever identified this condition as a trigger for a surface flushing flow.
In summary, all the previously identified criteria for a surface flushing flow went out the proverbial window when it came to this year’s event, notwithstanding the enormous cost to both Upper Klamath Lake and the farmers that depend on the lake for a source of water. More broadly, this situation underscores the ad hoc nature of water management in the Klamath Basin.
KWUA Annual Meeting Looks back and ahead:
Nearly 200 attendees and the speakers at KWUA’s April 12 Annual Meeting took stock of 2021, the worst-ever year for irrigation water availability through the Klamath Project, and discussed what may and could lie ahead.
Representative Cliff Bentz, U.S. House of Representatives member representing Oregon’s District 2, was the featured speaker for the event. Mr. Bentz has a unique and ideal background for tackling water issues plaguing the Klamath Project. Raised on his family ranches in Harney County, Oregon, he set a goal early on to become a water lawyer and eventually a legislator in order to help farmers and ranchers. He has proceeded on that path, through law school, private law practice, the Oregon legislature, and now, Congress.
Mr. Bentz spoke of his experience in his first term and provided insight to federal agency decision-making. As noted by State Representative E. Werner Reschke, who introduced Mr. Bentz to the audience, Representative Bentz sits as Ranking Member (the top Republican) on the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, a rare position for a freshman in Congress.
If Republicans become the majority in the House after the November election, it is very likely that Representative Bentz will become the Chair of that Subcommittee, an extremely important post for Klamath Project water users. Mr. Bentz noted that he will have the ability to demand responsiveness and accountability from federal agency personnel whose actions and policies are doing damage to agricultural communities and the wildlife in the Klamath Basin.
Other speakers included Ernest Conant, Regional Director of the California – Great Basin Region of the Bureau of Reclamation, Klamath Irrigation District Executive Director and Manager and KWUA Operations Committee Chair Gene Souza, KWUA staff members Paul Simmons and Moss Driscoll, and Julie O’Shea, the Executive Director of the Farmers Conservation Alliance. Oregon Senators Merkley and Wyden, and U.S. House of Representatives member Doug LaMalfa, California’s First District, provided video messages for attendees at the event.
KWUA President Ben DuVal had opened the program and recounted his personal experience in 2021, his first year of serving as KWUA’s President. He reflected on the strength of the community, and gratitude to his neighbors who helped his family’s operation endure the terrible experience of the 2021 irrigation season.
KWUA Vice President Ry Kliewer closed the program, delivering a heartfelt message about community, brotherhood, and faith to a community that faces another year of disastrously low irrigation water supply.
KPDRA Anticipates Opening Program May 1
The Klamath Drought Response Agency (DRA) Board of Directors last met on April 19. The DRA has just under $20 million available for its programs in 2022. The board is continuing to meet to develop a program or programs that will best serve the very difficult circumstances this year The board is working to have the program available to applicants on May 1. The estimated deadline for receipt of applications is currently June 15 (both dates are subject to change once the policy is approved). Please check for updates at www.Klamathwaterbank.com. The next scheduled DRA board meeting is May 11, at 10 am.
2022 DRA Board Members are: Ryan Hartman, Marc Staunton, Sam Henzel, Paul Crawford, Luke Robison, Rob Unruh, and Mike McKoen.
Food Shortages, Rising Prices … We’ve Been Warning About This for Years
Reprinted from the Arizona Republic View original article here.
Opinion: War in Ukraine is stoking fears of rising food prices and shortages, but water policies also are threatening our ability to supply the U.S. with food.
By Paul Orme and Dan Keppen
As the Ukraine war kindles fears of rising food prices, the recognition of a secure domestic food supply – driven in large part by irrigated agriculture in the Western U.S. – is something we need to talk about.
The Family Farm Alliance last month released a report that describes current and projected food shortages resulting from the Russia-Ukraine war. This is nothing new, from our standpoint. The domestic food security issue is a concern that we’ve warned our policy leaders about for more than 15 years.
The U.S. needs a stable domestic food supply, just as it needs a stable energy supply. As we teeter on the brink of escalating warfare, that stability becomes even more pressing.
More than 80% of our country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown west of the Rockies. The 17 Western states are also home to nearly three-quarters of the nation’s cattle industry.
Drought and federal policy decisions are jeopardizing this food supply.
Other Nations Are Acting to Prevent Food Crises
Government water policy decisions made in California and Oregon are currently withholding once-reliable water from farmers in order to meet perceived environmental priorities. In simple terms, our own government is actually voluntarily directing measures that restrict water to farmers. Sadly, this diminishes our food production capacity, and with it, our national security.
There was for a long time an inborn appreciation and awareness by our policy leaders for the critical importance of a stable food supply. Now, it appears that many Americans simply assume that food is something that comes from the local grocery store.
On the other hand, countries who have starved within memory understand the importance of preserving and protecting their food production capability. Business Post reported last month that all farmers in Ireland will be asked to plant their land in grains, as part of emergency plans to offset a predicted food security crisis in Europe amid Russia’s ongoing assault on Ukraine.
Western ranchers and farmers are major contributors to our national food and fiber production capacity, once the envy of the world. Unfortunately, without restoring balance among competing water uses, these producers cannot continue to operate.
Yet Central Arizona Farmers Are Fallowing Land
Central Arizona agriculture is a vital part of that mix. Pinal County has a $2.3 billion agricultural economy. It produces 45% of Arizona’s cattle and calf sales and 39% of Arizona’s milk and dairy sales, primarily for the burgeoning Phoenix and Tucson metro areas. Surrounding farms grow feed for that well-placed industry, without incurring significant transportation costs.
In Central Arizona, the primary hardships to irrigated farmers and ranchers—particularly to producers in Pinal County—are due to Colorado River operating guidelines, where Central Arizona Project (CAP) agricultural water supply priorities take the back seat to cities and tribes.
Most CAP farmers are losing 70% of their CAP supplies this year. In 2023 and beyond, they will lose 100% if the Colorado River hydrology does not improve.
With insufficient access to groundwater, Pinal County irrigation districts will see 25-50% of its farmland go out of production. These barren fields will create dust and other environmental hazards. Taking this much land out of production could also escalate food supply costs in neighboring counties and create other unintended consequences.
Don’t Take Western Farmers for Granted
Fortunately, American consumers who have experienced supply chain disruptions over the past two years are now starting to recognize that the Ukraine war could impact global food supplies. Those consumers will soon see further shortages and higher prices at the store.
Unfortunately, once the grocery shelves are bare, it will be too late.
In a world of global uncertainties, we can’t afford to take the farms that produce our food for granted. Western irrigated agriculture must continue to play a vital role in feeding our nation, while keeping our rural communities and the environment healthy.
One certainty holds firm and true—our nation’s most valuable natural resource must be preserved.
Paul Orme is an Arizona rancher, attorney and board member of the Family Farm Alliance, a nonprofit organization that represents Western family farmers, ranchers, water districts and allied industries. Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen lives in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Reach them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ferguson Group:
KWUA and the Ferguson Group continue to work with your delegation on Capitol Hill and the federal agencies regarding KWUA’s priorities in 2022, including the urgent need to cure deficiencies in the application of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) at the Klamath Project, identify funding opportunities to support the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency, preparations for 2022 and 2023 operations, and to address operational needs through legislation.
On Capitol Hill, the House Appropriations Committee is tentatively planning to vote on its fiscal year 2023 spending bills – including those that will fund the Bureau of Reclamation and various USDA programs – in June, preparing for potential floor votes in July. The Senate Appropriations Committee would need to follow a similar schedule to get twelve spending bills that cover operations of all federal agencies passed and sent to the President by September 30, the end of the fiscal year. The Senate schedule, however, has not been announced yet.
We expect the four House and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairs and Ranking Members to meet soon to begin discussions on a bipartisan agreement setting overall discretionary spending levels for the fiscal year 2023 that begins October 1. Last year, negotiations setting overall spending levels delayed the passage of the FY 2022 bills by about five months.
Regarding the President’s FY 2023 budget, Members of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations subcommittee this month questioned officials from the Bureau of Reclamation on the FY 2023 President’s Budget, including the Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed $1.4 billion budget (a decrease of almost $500 million from FY 2022 appropriations), with senators’ questions revolving around how the agency is addressing the persistent drought across the West, including asking how the agency’s implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law is fitting in with funding long term solutions to drought, including development of new water storage.
The Biden White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has issued its final Phase 1 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rule, restoring a series of rigorous review mandates that the Trump Administration eliminated in its rewrite of the rule, while pushing back on expected criticisms that the measure will create confusion and delay critical infrastructure projects. In its announcement, CEQ also reiterated that it plans to adopt a series of broader reforms in an upcoming Phase 2 rule.
In the courts, legal briefs on the merits were due April 11 in Sackett v. EPA, the closely watched Supreme Court case that could determine the definition of Waters of the United States (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA). In the case, the high court is set to determine whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit “set forth the proper test for determining whether wetlands are ‘waters of the United States’” under the CWA. That court referenced Justice Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test of jurisdictional waters, as opposed to the late-Justice Scalia’s “relatively permanent continuous flow” test.
From Your Districts
- Klamath Irrigation District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on May 12 @ 1 pm at the KID office.
- Tulelake Irrigation District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on May 9 @ 8 pm at the TID office
- Klamath Project Drought Response Agency will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on May 11 @ 10 am in the KWUA boardroom
- Klamath Water Users Association will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on May 11 @ 2 pm at the KWUA office
- Kamath Drainage District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on May 19 @ 1 pm at the KDD office
- Pioneer District Improvement Co. will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on May 9 @ 5:30 pm
What the Board Has Been Doing…
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 most recent regular business meeting on April 6. Below is a recap of the ongoing activities, including the current status. If you would like more in-depth information, we encourage you to contact your respective district board member listed on our website.
Chelsea Shearer briefed the board on planning and logistics for the April 12 Annual Meeting.
Operations Committee Report
Gene Souza reviewed recent and current hydrologic conditions. Since October 2019, we are 20 inches below normal precipitation. East Side Project districts are expecting no water out of Clear Lake this year, and minimal water from Gerber Reservoir.
Brian Person from the Bureau of Reclamation was in attendance at the April 6 board meeting and spoke of the status of agency discussions regarding the 2022 Operations Plan. Board members and Mr. Simmons related historical information relative to some of the topics for Mr. Person’s awareness. The board discussed 2022 operations in detail following Mr. Person’s departure from the meeting.
Mike McKoen reported that the DRA is ready to act when it has received the information about water operations and the amount of DRA funding that will be available.
· WSJ Advertisement
Follow-up KWUA was an active participant in developing an advertisement that published in the Wall Street Journal (see page 6 of this report) over the April 2-3 weekend. Fundraising efforts yielded more than the cost of the ad and the plan is to use the remaining dollars to leverage the ad on social media. The board also viewed a video that was created for Shut Down, Fed Up.
· Social Media Analytics
At KWUA’s March 3-4 strategic planning session, the board was interested in data related to KWUA’s social media presence. At the April 6 board meeting, Darcy Hill presented that information. Darcy also has a written report that Chelsea Shearer will circulate to the board.
KID Election Follow-Up and Messaging Mr. Simmons advised the board that there had been some extremely negative messaging about Klamath Irrigation District’s April 4 announcement of the results of a vote of its patrons. The board directed that Paul write a statement on behalf of KWUA and gave overall direction for the content of the statement.
Mr. Simmons noted that there was a Senate budget committee hearing on the same day as the board meeting (April 6) concerning Reclamation’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023. He projected the requested budget totals for the Klamath Project. As in past years, Reclamation did not include any funding for the DRA in its budget, so we will have to pursue any of that funding through Congressional add-ons during the appropriations process or other means in the Administration after appropriations have occurred (such as reprogramming).
There is considerable activity in the two Oregon PUC cases in which KWUA recently intervened. This is both because the OPUC has to issue an order by December and because there are many parties involved in the case. Mr. Simmons also restated the appreciation for the Oregon Farm Bureau agreeing to reimburse half of our payments to Lloyd Reed for the cases, up to a maximum reimbursement of $20,000. As in other cases, we have many common interests with other customer groups in these cases, but there are issues unique to the irrigation tariff for which we have no natural allies. The proposed rate increase for irrigation is the highest of any of Pacific Power’s customer classes.
Mr. Simmons has also been informed that Pacific Power will be filing a new general rate case in California soon. This is an even more difficult situation, because the utility has very few customers in California of any type, so organized or cost-effective opposition is a challenge.
Water Policy Director Report
Moss Driscoll limited his oral report to issues concerning emergency drought wells. He reported on the status of discussions with the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) and MBK Engineers. Based on input from MBK Engineers, reasonable monitoring measures and pumping conditions have been identified that could help assure OWRD of adequate protections for domestic wells. There may be value in seeing how wells respond once there is water in some canals. Overall, at this time, OWRD still does not anticipate issuing any drought permits.
· The Upper Klamath Basin received, on average, 4.8 inches of precipitation since April 1, bringing the Basin to 78 percent of average for the water year to date.
· Average daily net inflow to Upper Klamath Lake over the last seven days was 3,147 AF.
· Total net inflow to Upper Klamath Lake since October 1, 2021, is 496,000 AF.
· Storage in Upper Klamath Lake is 335,000 AF (60%).
· Storage in Clear Lake is 64,000 AF (16%)
· Storage in Gerber Reservoir is 15,000 AF (15%).
· All out of stream uses on tributaries to Upper Klamath Lake for which the Klamath Tribes have instream water rights have been regulated off until the end of the irrigation season or otherwise notified by OWRD.