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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Farmers, ranchers in the Langell Valley familiar with water crises
Irrigators in the Langell Valley, mostly ranchers and hay farmers, say they are familiar with water crises.

Deliveries were curtailed on July 7 in 2009 — just halfway through the April to October irrigation season.

Water fell short before that in 2005 near the end of the irrigation season.
Property owner Jim Camozzi said a series of late-season freezes and then dry weather has resulted in smaller-than-average yields for his Langell Valley grass fields.
On a good year, his fields, located on the east side of the valley and served by Clear Lake irrigation water, produce about 1,000 bales of grass hay used mostly for horses and cattle kept on the property. In an average year, when water levels are adequate and weather cooperative, the fields produce about 600 bales.
Camozzi said this year, he’ll have 300 bales. And that’s OK, he said.
“If you’re happy, and you got your health, you have a good year,” he said.
That’s because nothing compares, Camozzi said, to 2010. In that year, under drought conditions, Clear Lake just met its minimum level of 4,520.6 feet above sea level.
Under federally-mandated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinions, a minimum lake level is required to support the short-nose sucker, an endangered fish.
Camozzi said he was only able to keep farming with a windmill-powered pump, which draws water from a well on the property.
Land idling
There is relief available for some landowners in the valley.
Klamath Water and Power Agency contracted to idle 695 acres of irrigated land in the valley.
By idling their land — choosing not to irrigate, and effectively choosing not to use the land for farming — landowners are reimbursed by KWAPA and water is conserved for other irrigators, extending the season’s supply of water.
But then the politics of water come into play, said Horsefly Irrigation District manager Don Russell. In a region where water usage and biological opinions are hot-button phrases, Russell believes many of his district’s members would rather not accept KWAPA assistance.
They consider it welfare, he said, in place of water that allows farmers and ranchers to work.
“The water is going downstream. And we’re in the understanding that we were given a right in the early part of the (20th) century,” Russell said. “We’re not anti-fish, we’re not anti-doing the right thing. But how much can the American people take?”
More losses
Earl Wiersma, a ranch owner near Bonanza, said his pastureland in the Horsefly Irrigation District isn’t reliant on Clear Lake water.
But for those on the east side of the valley, another year of short water deliveries could mean more losses.
The 2010 drought was “disastrous” for farmers on the east side, Wiersma said. Many of the alfalfa and grass fields that were decimated began to recover in 2011, when the valley received full water deliveries through the end of the irrigation season.
But “you can’t recoup your losses in one year,” he said.
For those who can’t supplement their water deliveries with wells, shutting off water deliveries means another year that the water retained by the soil — what Wiersma calls the water bank — lags behind demand from forage crops like grass and alfalfa.
In some winters, snowfall can be relied on to build up the soil’s water supply.
“And we haven’t had some real good winters to do that either,” Wiersma said.



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