dry in many Basin homes
starts her shift at Basin Ambulance at 5 a.m. each morning.
She likes to start and finish work early, so she can return
to her Malin home in the afternoon and tend to her
rather than saddling up and going for a ride when she gets
off, Judy is spending her afternoons finding water for her
small collection of horses, cows and goats.
On June 24, the
118-foot domestic well that provides water to the Shanks
property ran dry.
“I don’t even
know how to explain the gut wrenching reaction you have when
you go to turn on the faucet and no water comes out,” said
Judy. “You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
For almost a
month, Shanks’ animals have been drinking from a storage
tank behind her house. In order to conserve the tank’s
dwindling supply, she and her husband drive to her mother’s
house to shower and do laundry.
The Shanks are
not unique in this drought-impacted summer, during which all
irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake was cut off to the
households in the Klamath Basin use domestic wells both for
in-home, running water and to care for pets or a herd of
livestock. In times of drought when surface water is
unavailable, some even use their domestic wells to irrigate
small amounts of farmland.
For Shanks, all
their watering options have run dry. She has put her small
herd of cattle on the market.
down to hard choices,” Shanks said, her eyes filling with
tears. “With the way things have gone, I’m probably going to
sell my herd. If I can’t water and feed them the way they
need to be taken care of then they have to go. They just
Many of her
neighbors are in similar situations.
Mike Ewing is a
pump technician with Aqua Pump, a Klamath Falls-based
supplier. He installs pumps in domestic and commercial
wells, and adds piping so the well can reach farther below
the surface as water levels drop.
He has been
getting plenty of calls during this dry, smoky summer and
his competitors are, too.
“When we go out
to service one well there will be trucks from other pump
companies down the road doing the same job,” he said.
Over the past
month, Ewing has received about four or five calls per day
about pump issues. He said about one call a day leads to a
dry well. In those cases, Ewing isn’t much help. He can’t do
anything but refer the well owner to a drilling company and
hope they can extend the well far enough to find water.
people call, you show up and you’re a superhero,” Ewing
said. “But now they call, you show up, and there is nothing
you can do.”
In the last two
weeks, the Klamath County Watermaster’s office has received
82 complaints from people in the Klamath Basin experiencing
water shortages in their personal wells.
watermaster of District 17 in Klamath Falls, knows there are
many more empty wells that have yet to be reported.
Some were able
to find water tanks and fill them from their neighbor’s
pumps, or from other wells that haven’t yet dried up.
tanks are wide-based, plastic cylinders with a hole in the
top to put water, and a few holes on the side to hook pumps
into. They are bulky and not easy to transport — you have to
bring the water to them.
Steinberg’s house is one that is currently running on water
from a 2,500 gallon tank, which her brother refills about
every two weeks. Steinberg lives on her family’s farm in
between Merrill and Malin with her daughter and husband.
Their domestic well went dry July 2.
water tanks are not a sustainable solution to this problem
for anyone. The water from her tank runs through the
plumbing in her house. It is not potable, so her family has
been buying plastic water bottles from the store for
drinking and cooking.
literally going dry on a daily basis, all within a two-mile
radius of my house,” she said.
the well is about 100 feet deep, and that they have never
had any trouble with it until this summer.
Drilling a well
costs anywhere from $12,000-$15,000, depending on how deep
the well is drilled. Steinberg is on a waitlist, along with
most of her neighbors, who don’t expect to see a drilling
company for another 2-3 months.
lives south of Klamath Falls, and has been on a waitlist
with a well drilling company after her well went dry May 30.
She was recently told it would take months for the company
to make it to her property.
Lack of trickle-down irrigation
Shanks, Buckley and many others experiencing well water
shortages live near irrigation canals. In past summers,
wells 80-200 feet deep can draw from a shallow aquifer that
is recharged by water pumped through canals and over fields.
executive director of Klamath Water Users Association, is
not surprised to see these water shortages in such areas. He
has been hearing about the shortages for at least a month
where it is happening are all along major canals that have
been left dry this season,” Simmons said.
Klamath Project received no water from Upper Klamath Lake
this year, farmers have not able to irrigate as much of
their land from surface water, forcing those who want to
irrigate to drill deep and pump water to the surface.
Ivan Gall, from
Oregon Water Resources Department, agreed that the lack of
surface water throughout the Project is contributing to the
poor recharge rate of shallow well systems. But long-term,
environmental factors are at play as well.
multiple dry years does not help,” Gall said.
extensive and time-consuming research, there is no way to
tell where the groundwater level is in the Klamath Basin and
how far it has dropped during the current drought.
Low levels, long term trend
United States Geological Survey monitors water in the
Klamath Basin and other areas with various sensors that can detect
water levels. They monitor
about 40 wells, including household and commercial wells
with landowner permission, as well as USGS wells installed
specifically to measure aquifer levels.
measurements “are some of the lowest levels we’ve seen and
it looks like a long term trend,” said Terrence Conlon, a
regional science coordinator for the USGS.
It’s not just
the scientists who are noting the lack of water.
“I put these
drought wells in about 20 years ago on this day,” said Bob
Bunyard, the owner of Klamath Pipe Center. He was called out
to a farm this week off Springlake Road to extend piping an
additional 20 feet.
this year is the worst in his memory, because on top of the
drought and lack of surface water getting to farms and rural
homes, there is a pipe shortage as a lingering result of the
other pipe businesses in the basin don’t even have all the
materials needed to fix struggling wells, even as calls
continue to overwhelm phone lines.
technician from Aqua Pump, said he is also experiencing the
“When you do
find a pipe the prices are tripled,” he said.
Commissioners are working with Oregon Emergency Management
and the Oregon Department of Human Services to secure
portable water in places where wells went dry. There is no
considered emergency water,” said Commissioner Kelley Minty
Morris. “People need to conserve as much as they can.”
The county has
ordered 320 water storage tanks. Due to supply shortages,
the county will receive shipments in increments, with the
first one is expected to arrive late next week.
currently working to establish a distribution area where
people can pick up tanks and fill them with fresh water, as
well as a plan to refill tanks as people need them.
eligibility for a water tank, Minty Morris encourages people
experiencing well issues to contact the watermaster’s
office, where they will be added to the queue.
Brad Kirby, the
manager of Tulelake Irrigation District, received a shipment
of tanks ranging from 550-2,600 gallons on Friday for people
experiencing well issues in the Tulelake area.
encourages people to call the Tulelake Irrigation District
and they will work to get a water tank delivered.
Shanks said the
constant struggles for life’s basics will cause people to
leave the basin in drove.
everything out of here,” she said. “It’s not just our
livelihoods but a lot of people’s livelihoods.”
Shanks said she
is thinking seriously of pulling up roots.
“If it comes
down to that, I’m leaving Klamath County,” she said. “I’m
ready to go somewhere else because our water situation is so
bad and there is no end in sight.”
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