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Klamath Irrigation District turns 100

by Holly Dillemuth, Herald and News 12/28/17

The Klamath Irrigation District has spent the last 100 years delivering water to irrigators in the Klamath Project.

The district turned a century earlier this month, and KID officials plan to commemorate the anniversary of its contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation signed in December 1917 tentatively in summer 2018.

The irrigation district is one of the largest in the state of Oregon, according to William “Bill” Ganong III, who served as a longtime water attorney in some capacity for the district from 1979 until 2016. Ganong also represented Basin irrigators in the Takings case, litigation stemming from the shutoff of water to Basin irrigators in 2001.

“The time frames are important – that was World War I,” Ganong said, looking back on when the district was created.

Ganong noted that the start of the district coincided with a time when many farmers and irrigators were drafted or enlisted in the war effort.

“The economy was still forming,” Ganong said. “Railroad was now here but marketing crops was not easy. People were upset because they couldn’t get water or their canals leaked.”

Generation to generation

Ganong’s father and grandfather both served as attorneys for KID, and he continued the legacy they started.

“It’s part of my DNA,” Ganong said of his involvement in legal counsel for the district.

In the early days of the district, Ganong said that payment to the federal government for water delivery was met by some resistance by irrigators. But the alternative to payments to the government involved getting payments from each individual landowner, a process that may have been more tedious from an organizational standpoint, according to Ganong.

“A government entity coming in provided a single voice in dealing with the United States and a single place to make the payments and the ability to raise the money,” Ganong said. “It made a huge difference at the time.

“What KID added or did for the project was provide an organization that ultimately provided leadership and funding and a communication process,” Ganong added. “Over the 100 years that it’s been in existence, that’s been a repeated part of its history. It was KID that kind of brought everybody together.”

System integrity

Ganong said KID was “very much a leader” in urging the BOR to address repair issues with leaking canals and a deteriorating C flume throughout the years.

Demolition on the 95-year-old C flume started in the fall and continues in spring 2018. The C flume’s replacement, the C siphon is scheduled to be completed by the beginning of irrigation season in March.

Ganong said KID also showcased leadership in regards to keeping on top of requirements of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act until the Klamath Water Users Association took the lead.

“A lot of the leadership in the project came from KID’s management,” Ganong said.

KID in recent years experienced a shakeup in management and new board members, as well as a return to representation on the KWUA.

Irrigators voted to recall former KID Board President Brent Cheyne in fall 2016 and narrowly voted to keep former board member Ken Smith.

It is the only recall of a board member in KID history, according to Ganong.

New faces

With the retirement of longtime board member Dave Cacka in 2016 and the end of term approaching for board member Greg Carleton, there will be new faces filling the board member spaces in 2018.

“One of the things that’s happened is a loss of institutional knowledge, and that’s good and bad in my opinion,” Ganong said. “It’s good because you tend to get tunnel vision the longer you’re there. And you tend not to be open to change or alternatives …. The bad part is, you don’t know about the battles that have already been fought or decisions that were made that are now back in front of you again.”

Through many of its changes, Ganong called KID “an entity that understands the need to modernize and the need to replace old infrastructure.

“And that just means you’ve got to raise assessments,” Ganong said. “You’ve got to raise the money to do that. Philosophically, that’s been a major change in the way boards of directors at KID looked at issues.”

The district had been a member of KWUA for many years, minus a one-year absence under former KID leadership.

Returning to KWUA

Scott White, executive director of KWUA, expressed appreciation for the return of KID to KWUA, which advocates on behalf of all Basin irrigators on matters of water legislation.

“It tells the bigger picture story of just how old this project is,” White said. “I think it coincides with the struggles that helps tell our story as a project and as a Basin.”

“As one of the largest districts in the state of Oregon, I think it’s pretty special,” said White. “You drive around and you see all these century farms signs up … I think it’s pretty neat to think about an irrigation district that has been around a century.

“They’re going through some transition, which I think is good, especially with the new blood that’s coming in,” White said.

“A fresh perspective is helpful,” White added.

Relief and sadness

Through out all of Ganong’s law projects, working with issues related to KID has been among the most constant and consistent to Ganong, meaning a mixture of both relief and sadness.

Ganong recalled memories of his father inviting KID board members to family dinners.

“I grew up knowing all of the board members at KID,” he added. “In addition to the business or legal aspect of it, there was a real social or personal relationship with many of the KID employees, the KID board members, active members of the agricultural community.”

Ganong retired this summer and will not renew his law license in 2018.

“The personal relationships continue for years and years with the people,” Ganong said.

And KID continues on today, working to deliver water to the Klamath Project in the 21st century.



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