Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Fighting for Our Right to Irrigate Our Farms and Caretake Our Natural Resources

Time to Take Action

Bureau of Reclamation Met With Leary Audience at
Public Meeting,
03/03/03  KBC News

More than 500 farmers and ranchers from the Klamath Basin met at the Klamath County Fairgrounds to hear  the Bureau of Reclamation's (BOR's) plan to have them forgo 50,000 acre feet (AF) irrigation water this year so more water could go downstream to the endangered fish. 

Dave Sabo, BOR area manager, explained the plan, which is outlined in the KWUA Press Release 03/03/03.   Explained is the 'Groundwater Substitution' plan, which details getting paid to use your own well water rather than stored Project water,  and also the 'Crop Idling' plan, where BOR pays you to not farm your ground.

According to Sabo, the Department of the Interior (DOI), in meeting demands of the biological opinion (BO) developed by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for threatened coho salmon, calls for a water bank this year totaling 50,000 AF, with "deposits" to the "bank" coming from temporary crop idling and use of groundwater in place of Project surface water. The Project water "banked" in Upper Klamath Lake will help Reclamation meet lake level objectives for endangered suckers, as well as downstream flow objectives established by NMFS for coho salmon. Next year the BO calls for 75,000AF, and thereafter 100,000AF.  So, 50,000AF of water will be sent down the river for environmental purposes this summer, and if the irrigators do not produce it, their water will be shut off if the lake/river levels fall under the BO's demand.  Again, it is 'voluntary.'

Sabo pointed out that this water only will meet 'ESA requirements' and 'river flows', and does not include other water demands like tribal trust.  {Last year 63,000AF 'tribal trust' water was sent down Klamath River, and an Tulelake Irrigation District was told midsummer that they needed to 'voluntarily' pump their wells into the river for 'tribal trust' or their water would be shut off.  So they pumped.}

Sabo made it clear that the BOR wants to restore certainty to farm irrigation but they are restricted by the current BO's.  The National Academy of Science (NAS) draft report supported flows like the previous 10 years and not higher water flows, but the current BO's demand high water levels to fix the river.  According to Sabo, we must wait for the NAS report to be finalized before a reconsultation on the current BOs can take place.

Dave Cacka, KWUA water bank committee chairman and Malin farmer, stated that last year John Keyes and  Bennett Raley asked KWUA to form a water bank to provide  water for downstream purposes.  The water bank committee has met over 40 times to develop a 65 page plan with principals.  Of these, certainty was the key principle, that the water users who do not relinquish their water rights this year will be assured of irrigation water for the entire year.  The Department of the Interior will not provide that assurance.  The committee wanted a water bank plan for years that there are low river flows.  The BO wants 75,000AF next year, and 100,000AF thereafter, no matter what the water levels are.  So Cacka clarified that this water bank is not the one that KWUA committee meticulously drafted, but rather it is a BOR plan. "The 65 page document is still on the table, and didn't see the light of day."  This BOR plan will idle 12,000 acres of land and 25,000AF additional water.  It  will not guarantee a water supply .  It is not our answer.  It is not overseen by districts.  KWUA plans to stay engaged to try to eventually gain certainty for the remainder of the project.

Kevin Conroy, from NRCS, said that there will be programs available this year to help fund planting a cover crop for idled land and waterfowl forage.

Dr Harry Carlson, California Extension Office, explained the criteria for idling land, and how the figures for land types were derived. Land idled will be ranked by crop and soil types which will give maximum water savings, yet minimize 3rd party impacts. Applications are due this Friday, March 7.

Barry Norris, ODWR (Oregon Dept of Water Resources), said that Oregon well owners need to obtain drought permit if they plan to pump.  For more information call 883-4182.

There was a question and answer period.  Ed Bartell, from the Upper Klamath Basin, brought to the crowds attention that the land being bought for inflated prices by Rangeland Trust for wetlands was depleting our water supply.  Since tens of thousands of acres of farm and pasture land have been converted to wetlands, the water going into Klamath River has severely been reduced.  He showed a chart of the water that has been depleted from the system, since wetlands use much more water than farmland.  Rangeland's plan is to take all the farmland and pastures in Upper Basin out of production.  His concerns were met with applause.   Bartell also was concerned that his permanent water source may be in jeopardy if we must idle farmland from our stored irrigation water supply.  Others were concerned also about future effects and future rights given up, but Sabo said he thought there would be none.

Gary Orem, farmer, asked what if he is pumping his Oregon well and the neighbor's well goes dry, will he be shut down.  The answer was, the neighbor must drill his well deeper.

One question asked was, "What are we doing about the false science--it's costing us a livelihood?" Sabo replied, "There is no money appropriated to get the species delisted.' It was followed by a comment from the crowd, "Our only chance is to get out of the United Nations--that's where the ESA is'.

The last speaker, Walt Moden, said that this is a nightmare coming true.  He had heard of the "World Bank Water Policy' plan several years ago, and one of the goals to get land out of production was to form 'water banks.'  They focus on entire river basins, claiming that there is mismanagement, environmental damage due to distorted policies, they have 'demand management' which uses price-based incentives to enforce low water usage, ration water, claim agriculture uses too much water, and claims farmers and ranchers don't pay enough for water. They press for national water agencies to run water policies. "Agenda 21 from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development is using the guiding principle to demand management to control the use and distribution of water by: the use of price, volume restrictions, and invasive regulations.

As people were leaving and gathering in groups, the discussions ranged dismay to disbelief at the United Nations agenda, concern that we are being forced to downsize the project and fix all the woes of the entire Klamath River watershed when the Project is only 2% of the watershed, wonder why  we must provide higher than historical water flows to a river that had no fish kills on low water years and fish kills on high water years.  One group was discussing the 50 drug labs poisoning the Klamath River.  Some felt they are being  forced to 'downsize' farming in the basin, but are given no choices, even though the science does not substantiate these drastic measures. These was discontent that 'tribal trust' is not quantified yet the Klamath Basin has to provide it from water they store, and discontent that the USFWS has no water plan and used more water last year in a low water year than in the past 50 years. Discussed were all the wells that have been going dry when ag wells are pumped.

There were two hopes expressed during the meeting.  One was that the Bush administration would make good on their pledge to help get resolve the water issue while sustaining agriculture in the Klamath Basin if we do our best to conserve water and make a plan, which we did.

The hope and advice Dave Sabo gave the Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers was, "We need to pray together for water." 

So, President Bush, and God, we're depending on you.

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