Klamath area ranchers cope
with lack of water
rights determine haves, have nots
CRAIG REED for the Capital Press 7/2/13
Ten days ago, rancher Eric Duarte shipped a
couple loads of yearlings to a feedlot to ease the pressure
on his pastures near Beatty, Ore.
He anticipates there'll be more early
shipments of cattle because there isn't water to irrigate
and keep the pastures green and growing to feed the animals.
Duarte and other ranchers in the drainage
areas north of Klamath Lake are being forced to make
decisions about their livestock earlier than normal after
they were shut off from their water sources. Properties in
the drainages of the Sprague, Williamson, Wood and several
other rivers were shut off from irrigating from those
waterways a couple weeks ago because the water level in the
upper end of the lake had to be maintained to protect fish
habitat. The Klamath Tribe called in its water rights to
protect traditional fishing grounds.
"There's a total of 105,000 head of cattle
involved in this mess," said Duarte, owner of Duarte
Livestock. "We're all in the same boat north of the lake.
We'll try to manage this deal the best we can, lighten up on
our fields as we go along. Get rid of the yearlings and wean
some calves early ... in September rather than in October."
Ace Felder, who has 500 yearlings grazing
along the Sprague River, said he's already made plans to
ship those animals to a feedlot around Aug. 1. Yearlings
that are shipped early will probably be 100 to 200 pounds
lighter than usual at shipping time, in turn lightening the
Tom Mallams, a Beatty area rancher and a
Klamath County commissioner, said he had heard some cattle
had already been moved out of the area. He also said some
livestock that normally comes into the area from California
for pasture were never shipped north this spring.
"Some guys knew there could possibly be a
water shortage here so they knew they couldn't afford to
haul cattle to Oregon pastures and then 30 days later have
to haul them someplace else," Mallams said. "I guess they
left them in California or hauled them to other areas that
had little better pasture. I don't know where they're
Mallams explained that a dam on the
Williamson River that backed up water for irrigation was
taken out several years ago and a multi-million-dollar
pumping station was built.
"The government then said it won't take the
water," Mallams said. "We got by for four or five years and
now they've turned us off.
"I expect they could be regulating ground
water (wells) before the season is over and that's something
they said years ago they would never do," he added. "Once
again they could change the rules because now they're saying
every well in the Klamath Basin is connected to surface
The ranchers said buying hay to carry their
livestock through the summer would be too expensive, and
they can't afford to use their own hay because it'll be
needed later for mother cows during the winter.
A hay shortage is expected in the basin,
especially if producers south of the lake are cut off early
and can't irrigate for third or fourth cuttings.
"We're anticipating a shortage of hay because
of drought issues in other areas (California and Nevada) and
their need for hay," said David King, a rancher in the Malin,
Ore., area and president of the Klamath Basin Hay Growers.
"There could be a cutoff (of water) in late August or
September for growers in the lower basin."
"We're watching the biology of the upper
Klamath Lake and expect it could impact us soon enough,"
said Luther Horsley of Midland, Ore., south of Klamath
Falls. "With conservation and water mitigation programs,
hopefully we'll get through it, but maybe not. There's a lot
of concerned people, whether in the project or off."
Mallams said the overall water shortage in
Klamath County will have "a horrendous financial impact.
It's going to affect every business in the entire Klamath
Duarte said he believes there is enough water
in the Klamath Basin for everybody and that all parties
should get to a table, negotiate and give a little.
Horsley said ag producers are being
conservative with water and not squandering the resource.
"I fully understand the despair and anxiety
of those guys in the upper basin," he said. "We went through
that in 2001. We had to sell good mother cows in 2001
because we didn't have feed for them. It was painful. Cows
want to eat and drink every day. They don't care about
By ANNA WILLARD for the Capital Press
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. -- In the complicated
world of Klamath Basin water, Scott White is the man in the
He is watermaster for District 17, which
covers most of Klamath County and a small portion Lake
His job is regulating the use of surface
water in the district.
Following the completion of the Oregon Water
Resources Department's adjudication in early March, White
and his staff have been monitoring river flows and
delivering notices to stop irrigating. The adjudication laid
out who owns the surface water rights in the area, and where
they are in the pecking order --seniority -- when there
isn't enough water for everyone.
This year, water is tight, and the Klamath
Tribes and Klamath Project irrigators have called for water.
Their water rights have been deemed more senior than about
200 upper basin irrigators, who are being shut off.
White said a dry winter resulting in
insufficient flows to Upper Klamath Lake tributaries is a
major factor in the decisions to shut off water in the Upper
"The flows are so low this year there aren't
enough paper water rights to cover it, so it goes to the
most senior users and the junior water rights are shut off,"
White said Monday before the rally in Klamath Falls. "We
haven't received any pushback, but nobody is happy."
White said that when informing irrigators
that their water needs to be turned off, his staff works
hard to be tactful and respectful. The first step is to
track down the owner, which is not always easy, he said. In
some cases there are absentee landowners, the land is being
leased or sometimes people are just hard to find, White
He said there has been only one instance
where his staff physically shut off water, but that was a
public diversion and irrigators downstream were contacted
Now, his staff is reassessing flows. He said
if there is water that can be turned back on they will do
so, but White is doubtful.
"If we have 100 (cubic feet per second)
extra, people may be able to turn on their water, but in a
drought year maybe not," White said.
He added that they have completed work on the
Sycan, Sprague and Williamson rivers.
Now the Wood River, Sand and Scott creeks
have been called on, but his office will evaluate what has
already been done before moving on to other drainages.
Wood River is near Fort Klamath and Sand and
Scott creeks run in northern Klamath County near the Klamath