Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Irrigators gather in Reno to address the drought
by HOLLY DILLEMUTH Herald and News Feb 23, 2018
RENO, Nev. — Klamath Basin irrigator Frank Hammerich was among the first to pitch a question to a panel of Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) staff Thursday morning at the Family Farm Alliance’s conference on water issues in the West.
Standing up among the some 200 irrigators and ag people, Hammerich said he believes water storage in the Klamath Basin is a “good deal.” But he wanted to know how storage benefits the Klamath Basin when it butts up against the Endangered Species Act and fish protection.
“The water just goes downstream, so what are we gaining?” Hammerich asked.
The conference, “What’s changed, and where are we going in Western Water?” organized by the alliance, features BOR Commissioner Brenda Burman, as well as Kiel Weaver, assistant for policy to House Speaker Paul Ryan and David Bernhardt, deputy secretary to the Department of the Interior and Jessie DuBose, of Blue Zones Project Klamath Falls.
Sessions addressing the Endangered Species Act and challenges irrigators face with the law, as well as an inside look into water issues at the federal level fill out the two-day conference at the Eldorado Resort Casino.
A contingent of irrigators, including Klamath Basin resident Lynn Long, also met with BOR’s Burman Thursday morning, according to Long.
“We are asking the commissioner to do everything in her power to alleviate the lack of irrigation deliveries to the Basin,” Long said. “If she can’t pull the water rabbit out of the hat, let’s look for some funding sources that can keep people on the land.
“If you take the water away from agriculture, don’t make the farmer be the sole payer of that obligation,” Long added.
Long is looking at a summer of drought for his and other farming operation, and the meeting gave him and others a space to share concerns and seek solutions.
“We’re in a real pickle,” Long said, following one of the conference sessions. “We’re seeking every opportunity to find solutions, not only to endangered species issues but to continue viable agriculture in the Klamath Basin.
“I believe circumstances are more dire as we look at 2018 (than 2001),” Long added. “All of the players involved in the issue know about 2001. There’s not much to be discovered. The outcome that’s squarely in front of us — that’s no water.”
(In 2001, water was shut off to the Project in deference for protecting endangered fish, sparking protests and the famous bucket brigade down Klamath Falls’ Main Street. While there’s an uneasy truce over water deliveries 17 years later, many issues remain unresolved).
If irrigation water is limited or not available at all, Long said, his net worth will decline and leave his retirement account “diminished.”
It’s Long’s first time at the conference, in part due to greater awareness of the Family Farm Alliance and its effectiveness at representing irrigators like him.
“They allow me to have contact with the commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation,” Long said.
“We, the everyday farmer, irrigator, rancher, we just don’t have contacts at high enough levels to be successful.
“The future may be hazy,” Long added. “The desirability of owning a farm and ranch in the Klamath Basin … is unclear.”
Burman declined comment on the meeting with irrigators or on issues related to the conference, but referred questions to Alan Mikkelsen, special adviser to Department of Interior’s Secretary Ryan Zinke.
A mixture of mandates
Federico Barajas, deputy regional director for the Mid-Pacific region of the BOR, addressed Klamath Basin issues related to drought during the morning session Thursday.
“Klamath is a good example of a good partnership that we have in Reclamation with the regulatory agencies,” Barajas said.
“We’re faced with many challenges in operating that facility and in the midst of us staying to those regulatory requirements, lake elevations, and then flow requirements, and court mandates.”
Barajas addressed drought conditions saying not only are areas experiencing dry weather, but it is also mixed with hot temperatures; a combination which concerns the BOR the most.
“We don’t have a lot of storage capacity up in that Klamath Basin for us to be able to maximize our water deliveries,” Barajas said.
“Right now we’re in the midst of trying to figure out what our initial water allocation is going to meet, and on top of our multiple water demands, we have now a court mandate for pulse flows and at the same time we need to keep the balance on lake elevations,” Barajas said.
“We’re in for a very challenging year all around, with California, with the Klamath Basin,” Barajas added. “We’re trying to be as innovative as we can.
“We’re trying to just stretch the water as much as we can,” he said. “We’re going to be working with many of you to continue to do that, to be as creative as we can to be able to maximize those water deliveries.”
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Page Updated: Sunday February 25, 2018 12:32 AM Pacific
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