WaterWorks February 2020

2020 Water Year: Uncertainties Continue to Plague Klamath Agriculture

As the 2020 growing season approaches, Klamath Project farmers and ranchers face an unreasonable set of uncertainties that affect their operations. KWUA’s dominant objective is to eliminate or reduce these challenges, but this year is unusually complicated.

As always, there is the weather. Snowpack and rainfall are an uncontrollable variable, and always have been.  Droughts have been managed. At the present time, severe drought is unlikely. Current snowpack is 76% as of today. There will be more than enough water physically available for irrigation of the Klamath Project.  But the addition of regulatory constraints under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is another matter: “physically” available does not necessarily mean “divertable.”

Since the early 1990s, there have been limitations on the drawdown of Klamath Project reservoirs, based on agency opinions of the needs of endangered short nose suckers and Lost River suckers. Since 1997, there have been requirements for ensuring Klamath River flow in California, based on agency opinions of the needs of coho salmon.  Parties traded lawsuits, and there were ESA consultations resulting in new biological opinions (BiOp) on a regular basis. For roughly a decade, though (2005-2015), there was relative quiet and no new ESA litigation. 

That has changed.  Since 2016, there have been seven new lawsuits, filed by various parties, that relate in some way to ESA regulation of the Klamath Project.  As a result of a 2017 court injunction, the Bureau of Reclamation re-initiated ESA consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) culminating in new biological opinions in April of 2019.  The following chart shows, by hydrologic year-type, water from Upper Klamath Lake / Klamath River that could have been diverted under the former Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the quantities available under previous, 2013 BiOp’s, and quantities available under the current (2019) biological opinions.

The 2019 BiOp’s were intended to cover a five-year period, but are already set to be changed.  In November of last year, Reclamation announced that an outside consultant had provided “erroneous data” for use in the 2019 ESA consultation, and that it was re-initiating consultation again, with the goal to complete the process and receive new BiOp’s by March 31, 2020.  See December, 2019 Issue of WaterWorks: Stranger Than Fiction” 

In the meantime, litigation is pending.  Of most immediate relevance, the Yurok Tribe and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations challenge the coho BiOp’s in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Francisco Division).  In that case, they have also filed a motion for preliminary injunction, which is set to be heard on February 28.   Currently in that motion, they seek to have the court order an increase of 50,000 acre- feet per year in the amount of water released from Upper Klamath Lake to the Klamath River, presumably at the expense of the Project.  The federal agencies dispute the need for a preliminary injunction for various reasons, including that the agencies are in the process of re-consultation such that the lawsuit is soon to be moot.  KWUA is an intervenor in the lawsuit and also disputes that motion. 

The resolution of interrelated issues concerning the Yurok Tribe litigation and the re-consultation process is necessary to know how much of the available water will be subject to diversion.  In the meantime, KWUA continues to advocate for an adequate, stable, water supply for irrigation, in all available forums.

KWUA Board Plans, Prioritizes, in Session at KCC

Last month, KWUA’s Board of Directors held a day-long planning session at Klamath Community College. The purposes of the meeting were to affirm and establish goals, priorities, and strategies for the upcoming year, on issues ranging from fish biology to federal legislation, and everything in between.  Participants evaluated the organization’s performance over the past year, and identified tasks and areas for improvement. 

Board members deliberated over the challenges of communicating with multiple audiences, for multiple purposes, with a particular emphasis on the need to keep district patrons informed as much as possible.  The board also assessed the complicated and intertwined issues of law, science, and policy that affect Project water supply.

KWUA is a voluntary membership, not for profit corporation, formed in 1953.  Its membership includes districts that serve irrigation water to about 175,000 acres from Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River.  There is a permanent staff of three and an eleven member, volunteer board. KWUA also engages individuals and firms with special expertise in lobbying, engineering and hydrology, fish sciences, or other areas.


KWUA will relocate its offices into our new space at 2312 South Sixth Street, Suite A, on March 1. As always, KWUA will have two meeting rooms available for use by members and partners as needed. Please contact Chelsea for scheduling, and come by and see us in our new place!

KWUA Active at Regional Water Conference

Klamath Project representatives had a good and productive experience at the Mid-Pacific Water Users Conference on January 22-24 in Reno.  (And not just because we won the bowling tournament…AGAIN.) 

The annual conference, attended by about 300 people, focused on issues of interest in the region of Reclamation that includes the Klamath Project, Newlands Project in Nevada, and projects in California including the Central Valley Project.  Commissioner Brenda Burman was the keynote speaker.  She and other personnel from Washington, DC, as well as Regional Director Ernest Conant and Klamath Basin Area Office Manager Jeff Nettleton were also in attendance.  “This conference is educational, and also a great opportunity to meet informally with people who are dealing with our situation,” said KWUA Vice President Ben DuVal, who attended along with other farmers and ranchers and KWUA staff.

KWUA Executive Director Paul Simmons spoke on a panel related to ESA consultations and the aftermath of President Trump’s October 2018 memorandum on Western Water.  Paul Souza, Regional Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Administration’s designee to oversee ESA consultations, also spoke, along with managers from the Central Valley Project.  Simmons also provided the Klamath Project report to attendees the next morning.  Tulelake Irrigation District Manager Brad Kirby participated on a panel addressing the implementation of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, accompanied by California State Water Resources Control Board Chairman Joaquin Esquivel and Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth.  Horsefly and Langell Valley Irrigation Districts’ attorney Steve Shropshire spoke on a panel of attorneys, moderated by Simmons, regarding recent developments under the Clean Water Act affecting irrigated agriculture.

KWUA and individual districts met with Regional Director Conant and other regional and Klamath Basin Area Office staff on priority issues.  This was also a first opportunity for Klamath Project representatives to meet new Deputy Regional Director Jeff Payne.

KWUA and member districts met with Regional Directors

The last evening of the conference included a popular social event at the National Bowling Stadium, attended by bowlers and non-bowlers alike.  Perennial power KWUA placed first among 24 teams of five, thanks especially to our ringers, George Rajnus and Rob Unruh. 

Cheri Unruh, Angie King, Sid Staunton, Jason Chapman, Chelsea Shearer, and George Ranjus showing off their bowling prizes.

Reclamation Releases New Biological Assessment Under Endangered Species Act

February 12, the Reclamation released a biological assessment, the first formal step in formal consultation under the ESA and the basis on which new biological opinions will be prepared by the USFWS and NMFS.

Under the ESA, Reclamation identifies a proposed action in the biological assessment, and the wildlife agencies’ BiOp’s evaluate whether the wildlife agencies believe the action will be adequately protective of species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA.  Reclamation then determines whether and how to move forward in light of its obligations under the ESA to ensure that its actions not jeopardize listed species.

In April of 2019, the agencies completed an ESA consultation that was for the purpose of guiding Klamath Project operations for five years.  However, it was subsequently learned that the agencies had been provided with incorrect data for use in the consultation.  Reclamation announced in November of 2019 that it was re-initiating ESA consultation, with the intent that BiOp’s be issued by March 31, 2020.

In the new biological assessment, under hydrologic conditions present in over half of years, there would be increases in the Environmental Water Account (EWA) (a volume of water released from Upper Klamath Lake for coho salmon) as compared to the 2019 BiOp’s. The increase is up to 20,000 acre- feet.  There would be equivalent decreases in Project Supply, the amount of water from Upper Klamath Lake available for diversion to irrigation and wildlife refuges during the irrigation season.

KWUA believes the agencies are relying far too heavily on a report that is of little value for assessing flow needs for coho salmon in the mainstem Klamath River, and will continue to voice that concern.

KWUA Washington, DC, Representatives’ Report

The Trump Administration has released its $4.8 trillion FY 2021 budget proposal which would cut many energy and environmental programs and increase national security and defense spending. The budget proposes to cut EPA 27%, the Army Corps of Engineers 22% and the Interior Department by 13% below FY 2020 enacted levels.

Reclamation’s proposed FY 2021 budget is $1.1 billion overall, down from the $1.6 billion enacted for FY 2020. Funding for the Klamath Project is proposed at $19.4 million, up from the approximately $16 million enacted by Congress in FY 2021. Funding will focus on studies and initiatives related to improving water supplies to address competing demands of various needs (i.e., agriculture, tribal, wildlife refuge, and environmental).

Congress is likely to reject the cuts proposed in the Trump  FY 2021 budget and use the funding levels from the previous bipartisan agreement to develop their FY 2021 appropriations bills. The debate over the FY 2021 appropriations process is likely to be lengthy and a final package of bills may not come until after the elections in November.

Also, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have jointly issued the Navigable Waters Protection Rule – commonly known as the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) Rule – which will make clear what is a jurisdictional water under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and what is not.

Under the rule, four categories of waters will be federally regulated: territorial seas and traditional navigable waters; perennial and intermittent tributaries to those waters; certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments; wetlands adjacent to jurisdictional waters. In addition, the final rule identifies 12 categories of exclusions (i.e., features that are not “Waters of the United States”): groundwater, ditches, prior converted cropland, waste treatment systems, and any flow in direct response to rainfall (e.g., ephemeral features).

The final rule will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which is expected soon. Additional background on the rule, including the full text of the rule, can be found here.

Jeff Payne: New Deputy Regional Director with Klamath Project Responsibility

On January 17, Reclamation’s California–Great Basin Regional Office announced the hiring of two new Deputy Directors, both of whom are now on the job. (See related article below regarding the name change of Reclamation’s former Mid-Pacific Region.)

Jeff Payne is the new Deputy Regional Director of Technical Services, with oversight over the Klamath Basin Area Office. In that role, he coordinates between the area office in Klamath Falls and a regional office in Sacramento, and has responsibility for Klamath issues having region-wide significance. 

Mr. Payne has undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering from the University of Kentucky and the University of Washington, respectively. Prior to joining Reclamation, he was the Director of Water Policy for the Friant Water Authority, which is comprised of Reclamation contractors in the Friant Division of the Central Valley Project.  Before that, he worked at an engineering firm in the private sector.

KWUA believes Mr. Payne’s combination of operations knowledge and policy expertise will be a great value to the regional office.  We will make opportunities for Klamath Project patrons to get to know him.

Name Change: Mid-Pacific Region Becomes California-Great Basin

The “Mid-Pacific” region of the Bureau of Reclamation has been renamed, to the “California–Great Basin” office. The change, which was driven by overall Department of the Interior re-organization actions, will have no practical consequences for the Klamath Project. The Klamath Project is still in the region, which is based in Sacramento.

Reclamation operates in seventeen western states.  Its headquarters are in Washington, DC.  The California-Great Basin office oversees the Klamath Project in Oregon-California, the Newlands Project in Nevada, and several projects in California, including the Central Valley and Cachuma Projects and others. In turn, there are area offices (such as the Klamath Basin Area Office) that operate and oversee specific projects or divisions of projects.

Bob Gasser Attends State of the Union Address

KWUA board member Bob Gasser was in the gallery for President Trump’s State of the Union Address on February 5.  He was a guest of Representative Greg Walden of Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, his long-time friend. Gasser was seated a few rows behind the First family.  Prior to the address, he met members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet and congressional leaders.  He found the experience to be everything that he had imagined and more.  “I’m a guy from Merrill. This was an experience of a lifetime.”

Bob Gasser, Upper right corner at the 2020 State of the Union Address.
Photo credit, Doug Mills/The New York Times

Bob is a fourth- generation native of the Klamath Basin. With his wife Patsy and two partners, he started Basin Fertilizer and Chemical Co., a successful agricultural support business based in Merrill.  He came to know Representative Walden around the time of the 2001 water curtailment, and the two became close personal friends.  “I guess I owe Greg now,” said Gasser. “But that one will be tough to top.”

KWUA’s Board of Directors strives to keep member districts and 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 convened on February 12, 2020.  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 below.

Executive Director’s Report

Water Bank Funding /Issues: KWUA staff has been closely monitoring the bleak weather forecast over the past few months and it appears the Basin will need a Water Bank fund to make it through 2020. Paul stated we have no guarantee but the allocation of money is a good thing and the current working assumption is that eight out of the nine million dollars available in the plus up funding from Reclamation could be available.  Nathan Ratliff and Paul have met with Moss.  Unfortunately, a “2018” model is likely to be required but there is a possibility of the Klamath Basin Drought Response Agency (DRA) “earning” some payments much earlier in the season so that we will not have the same uncertainty for producers and well owners. Also, we’ve received contact about potential other use of some of the funds, and may need to be flexible as to part of the funds. Meetings with KWUA and DRA are planned in the near future, including the afternoon of Feb. 13 with Reclamation.

Re-consultation Status: As best we know, a full biological assessment was delivered to USFWS and NMFS on Feb. 7. It was released for public comment during the Feb. 12 board meeting.  It is KWUA’s understanding that the changes from the 2019 proposed action and BiOp’s are: 1) increase of EWA and corresponding decrease in Project Supply of up to 20,000 acre-feet in about half of years; 2) reduction of flushing flow frequency to 1 of 3 years (presumably, this is the driest 1/3 of years, not just every third year on the calendar). High level discussions have occurred this week among federal agencies.  Response and timing of BiOp’s by NMFS not certain at this time.   The relationship of these issues to the Yurok Tribe motion for preliminary injunction (to be heard Feb. 28) was also discussed.

Deputy Director’s and Science Committee Report

Mark Johnson and Jerry Enman attended the Coalition of the Willing meeting in Redding last week.  Sub-regional groups outlined top priority projects and discussed with the entire group. The group will meet again in March to continue talks.

Mark and Ryan Kliewer updated the board on the South Suburban SD Proposed Project. They drafted up a memo outlining the proposed wastewater recycling facility by the SSSD.  They summarized issues and problems discussed in the memo. 

Temperture TMDLs: Mark reported that the Chamber and Business Group meetings he attends along with affected parties and the business and economic development interests are continuing. Chamber of Commerce priorities for an upcoming visit to Salem will include TMDL problems.  Other communities are having similar problems; regulatory priorities are often to just get the TMDLs done, because of court deadlines.

The petition for reconsideration of the Temperature TMDL  that KWUA and other districts filed jointly has been denied.  This was not unexpected, although it occurred sooner than we anticipated. The deadline for any further objection (which could be filing litigation or, potentially, a further petition for reconsideration) is March 17. East side districts previously filed litigation against the nutrient TMDL; KWUA decided on balance not to do so. For the Temperature TMDL, there is the additional issue of flow requirements.   Recommendation is to preserve rights on that issue and others at lowest possible cost. Oregon Water Resource Congress and east side districts will be contacted and the Executive Director. will have a further, specific recommendation at March meeting.

KWUA hosted the first Stewardship meeting a few weeks ago. Mike Hiatt and Clayton Creager provided an overview of their vision of the comprehensive plan and listened to concerns from the stakeholders. The board adopted a motion to approve and sign a 319 grant agreement for $29,000.00.

Power Committee Report  

Anticipated Power Cost Benchmark. Based on the last material that we have seen, we anticipate that the Power Cost Benchmark will be 50 % of what is currently being paid by Project users in Oregon, and 33 % of what is being paid in Tulelake. The committee’s next steps are critical.  The committee will plan next steps, responsibilities, needs for resources, legislation, etc.  

Time of Use Update.  Mark Johnson spoke with Todd Andres from PacifiCorp about upcoming changes to the pilot Time of Use program in the Klamath Basin. The program will remain unchanged for the 100 pumps in the program for 2020.  In 2021, the program is set to expand statewide, which could reduce the cost savings for pumping during off- peak hours. PacifiCorp submitted their proposal to the PUC, and we will have an opportunity for public comment in the upcoming months.

Mid-Pacific Report 

Several presentations at the conference related to the Project.  Also, good opportunity to meet with DC personnel and Regional Director.  KWUA, TID, KDD, and east side each had meetings with Regional Directors.

Family Farm Alliance

Family Farm Alliance is hosting their annual meeting February 23-24.  There will be a presentation by Ramsey Kropf on the Baley case and Paul Simmons is moderating a panel on ESA section 10.  Meetings are being arranged with DOI policy people who will be in attendance.


· Klamath Irrigation District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on March 13 @ 10 am

· Tulelake Irrigation District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on March 9 @ 10 am

· Klamath Project Drought Response Agency will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on February 18 @2 pm, in the KWUA boardroom

· KWUA will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on March 11 @ 2 pm

· Klamath Drainage District will hold its monthly Board of Directors meeting on February 20 @ 1:30 pm

KWUA is accepting nominations for our 2020 Board of Directors At-Large positions. If you are interested in serving on our board, please contact KWUA’s nomination committee Chairman, Gary Wright or call the office at 541-883-6100. At– Large seats and Officers will be voted and seated during the March 11th  Board meeting.

Hydro Update

Photo By Mackenzie Smith

Operations Committee Report

As of February 11, Upper Klamath Lake (UKL) elevation was at 4141.22; precipitation 7 % of normal; snow water- equivalent at 81% of normal.  UKL is currently below the central tendency. Gene Souza reported that Reclamation’s projection using 2019 BiOps and average precipitation from here on, Project Supply would be 236,000 acre- feet. Brad Kirby has also made an independent estimate of around 240,000.  Hydrology for the remainder of the winter will determine how much these numbers change. 

The operations committee has engaged with Reclamation on changes in the methodology for allocation of costs to non-reimbursable flood control.  It’s expected that Reclamation will offer some concepts based on these discussions.  There are unique issues for some districts that need attention.

Gene Souza reported on two bills pending in the Oregon Legislature related to: new measurement reporting requirements; and a bill that would do away with the automatic stay of water right enforcement orders that occurs when a lawsuit is filed challenging the order.


Position 1– TID: Brad Kirby & Kraig Beasly

Position 2– KID: Jerry Enman & Gene Souza

Position 3– KDD: Luther Horsley & Tracey Liskey

Position 4– At-Large: Gary Wright & Mike Byrne

Position 5– SVID/MID:  Rob Unruh & Ryan Hartman

Position 6– Poe Valley: Luke Robison & Jason Chapman

Position 7– Van Brimmer & Sunnyside: Marc Staunton & Dave Jensen

Position 8– Ady & Pioneer: Curt Mullis & Jason Flowers

Position 9– KBID: Ryan Kliewer & George Ranjus

Position 10– At-Large: Tricia Hill & Mat Trotman

Position 11– At-Large: Ben Duval & Bob Gasser

Staff  Executive Director: Paul Simmons ~ Deputy Director: Mark Johnson

Executive Assistant: Chelsea Shearer

KWUA Officers ~ President: Tricia Hill, Vice President: Ben DuVal

                                Secretary: Jerry Enman, Treasurer: Luke Robison

KWUA Board Member Spotlight

Marc Staunton

Board member Marc Staunton serves as the Primary for KWUA Board of Directors Position 7, representing Westside Improvement District, Sunnyside Irrigation District, and Van Brimmer Ditch Company.  Marc has been on the board since 2012. He has always been interested in learning and absorbing the issues that affect our communities, families, and businesses. Therefore, KWUA seemed like a good fit. He attended a few meetings eight years ago, and the rest is history. Marc stated he has “always believed Klamath Basin farmers are a very reasonable, solution-based group and I wanted to be part of working towards stability, success and the future.”

Marc is also the current Chair of the Klamath Drought Response Agency (DRA). He has served a term on the Tulelake Irrigation District Board of Directors and continues to be a local advisor for Northwest Farm Credit, board member of Packing Company Cal-Ore Produce, and a member of the Westside Improvement District, which lies on the west side of Tulelake Irrigation District.

Marc is a fourth- generation farmer in the Klamath Project, and grew up on the family farm. His great grandfather Edward Staunton was a World War I Veteran and received a lottery homestead in the Tule Lake basin in 1929. His grandfather John Staunton, and great uncle Bill Staunton, continued farming after they both served in the military. Upon Bill’s retirement, John’s three sons – Marshall, Sid, and Ed –  took over the farm and continued to grow and expand the farm with skill and innovation. In 2008, Marc returned home from college and worked in the financial industry. He then became an active partner in the family business. That same year, he married his wife Ami and together they have four children; Parker (10), Graham (7), Marley (6), and Elliott (3).

Marc and his father Sid and uncle Ed are all active partners in Staunton Farms, and work along with his brother, cousins and numerous employees. Staunton Farms has tried several different crops over the years, but their primary focus is organic and conventional potatoes of all shapes and colors. Other major crops include onions, garlic, grains, and alfalfa, although they are willing to try anything. Together, the family hopes to continue the legacy of farming in the basin.

A pickup tells a lot about a farmer, and Marc’s case, tailgate screams mountain biking. He enjoys mountain biking in the local area and has been known to be late to dinner because he needed to get a  bike ride in. He also enjoys snow skiing, pheasant hunting with his old Springer Spaniel, Cooper, fishing, and traveling with his family.

Mat Trotman

KWUA’s newest board member is Mat Trotman, who serves as the At-Large Alternate for Position 10. Mat was voted into the position in 2019 by the appointed board. When asked why he got involved in KWUA, Mat stated, “my families and my livelihood depend on agriculture here in the Basin. With so much invested, I couldn’t just sit back and watch.  I thought it was time for my contribution towards hopefully coming to some sort of long-term solution for all sides involved.“  Mat is also on the Lost River Ag Advisory Committee.

Mat is a second-generation Klamath Project farmer. His father Mark Trotman, and uncle Lon Baley, started the family’s farming legacy here. Baley Trotman Farms grows alfalfa, barley, potatoes, and wheat.  With the help of Baley Trotman Farms, Mat branched out and grew his first crop of chipper potatoes in 2010. He was able to secure a small operation loan through Farm Services Agency and worked his way up to growing 400 acres of potatoes along with 150 acres of grain. Mat runs his operation with his wife Kolene and his boys, who are too young to farm but still give him plenty of advice. For the last five years, he has farmed with his brother-in-law and KWUA board member Ryan Hartman.

When not working, Mat enjoys hunting and fishing, and he says he attempts golf here and there. As his boys are just getting old enough for sports, he anticipates being involved and enjoying the games.  

Mat stated he “would like to thank the past board members for everything they’ve done for the community, as well as the present board members who are currently serving. If it wasn’t for KWUA, farming in the Basin, I believe, wouldn’t exist.”

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Klamath Water User Association