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Water users in transition: 'Nasty' water year takes toll on former director

KID's watermaster resigns

Pay-out coming for drought relief applicants


Herald and News by Holly Dillemuth 1/13/19

Former executive director of Klamath Water Users Association Scott White recalls when he first started feeling the pressure associated with his job beginning to rise.

It was the fall of 2017, during preparations for the 2018 water year.

“We kind of saw the writing on the wall,” White said.

Pressure continued to mount as the water year was put on hold due to allocation uncertainties, and a court case focused on the water levels in Upper Klamath Lake brewed to a near boil by mid- to late-July.

A court ruling in San Francisco and change of venue ensued, though the case was later dropped by the Klamath Tribes as it was reassigned to a Portland court.

Even though the case has since been dropped, White said that the stress had already taken its toll on he and his family.

“I did not have enough hours in the day to get everything done — that was really when that started,” White said. “And I was still trying to get it all done and still trying to do what was right by everybody, and that includes getting water to the irrigators.

"That didn't shape up how we wanted or needed it to. It definitely took it's toll on me.”

The long view

As executive director, White led the organization that represents multiple irrigation districts in the Klamath Reclamation Project for the past few years.

The organization started in the 1950s, the brainchild of William Ganong Sr., grandfather of longtime water attorney Bill Ganong. The district has actively represented the interests of various water users in the Project under an executive director since the 1990s.

The job is a tough one, and White said he found himself in constant work mode, unable to shut it off.

 “It's just a matter of time when you're going to face a nasty water year. This was a nasty, nasty water year,” White said.

“We did not start the Project on time this year,” he added. “The fact that we struggled to find a path forward almost all season long. It was like a daily crisis, to keep the water going this year…it definitely builds up.”

White resigned from his position in November to spend more time with his family, something that has been hard to do during the last year in the position.

“We're certainly a part of this community, my kids are at that age where it would be very difficult to move them away,” White said.

“We'll see where 2019 takes us,” he added.

Director search underway

With the new year, KWUA is searching for a new executive director to lead the organization forward. The application deadline is Jan. 31 and a review committee is looking over applicants in February. So far, there are more than a dozen who have applied, according to KWUA staff.

With White's resignation, the organization is currently being led by interim executive director Paul Simmons, a longtime water attorney for the association since 1995. He is based out of California, but travels frequently to the Basin.

Simmons served as a counsel resource for the water users association during the "Takings" trial up to and following the hearings in Washington, D.C., in early 2017. No stranger to farming — having grown up in the Midwest the son of a soybean farmer — Simmons is hoping to maintain stability amid the organization's transition.

Inclusiveness, transparency and openness are among Simmons goals for the association.

Simmons emphasizes that stepping into the interim role for him means to maintain stability.

“Looking forward, I'm thinking what do you do to build on what he (White) did, and how do you keep that, the cohesiveness of organization in the community that exists today that did not exist when he walked in the door,” Simmons said. “We've got to keep that and everything else that's good, while knowing we're going to be in a different configuration going forward.”

Financial stress on irrigators, too

Simmons emphasized that many of the stresses are felt much deeper by irrigators themselves, especially when it comes to finances.

“We would all be the first to say that the stresses that we have aren't necessarily in even the same league with the people who have to have the water,” Simmons said.

“It's a different kind of stress. A lot of people are looking to you, too, if things don't go well...you didn't do what you're supposed to do,” he said.

Simmons also said it's a role that takes leadership and courage to represent 1,200 family farms and roughly 160,000 to 170,000 acres of farmland.

“(It requires) a person with strong communication skills, leadership ability, thick skin, able to work across a broad range of interests; able to write, organize, think,” Simmons said.

Taking on the watershed

Despite the shakeup, KWUA President Brad Kirby emphasizes the goals of the water users association remain constant.

“Just like every other party or stakeholder involved, we're trying to figure out a way of life or a way of living to the next generation,” Kirby said. “... Just trying to figure out the solutions not just for irrigated agriculture, but for the entire watershed and the stakeholders that utilize the water and for irrigation or for fish.”

Simmons also emphasizes the need going forward for KWUA is to have a good Biological Opinion in place.

The Biological Assessment that will aid the formation of the Biological Opinion was submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service on Dec. 21. Both agencies are closed due to the partial federal government shutdown, though USFWS received exceptions so that three employees can work on forming the opinion by April 1.

“The whole board is constantly trying to think about the next year and future years,” Kirby said. “It's the future of the Basin, and that's always on my mind.”

“You know what's guaranteed?” Simmons added. “Uncertainty — it's about managing uncertainty.

“You're managing uncertainties of hydrologies, the Biological Opinion, of weather, of markets, of labor force.”


KID's watermaster resigns

Klamath Irrigation District Watermaster Tyler Martin submitted his resignation from KID on Monday, Jan. 5. Martin's last day is scheduled for this week.

“I have some opportunities in the future that are pretty compelling, and though I love the honor of working for the district, I'm pretty excited about these (opportunities),” Martin said.

Martin said he will be available as needed to help the district move forward with the transition.

“I think I'll take some time to spend with family and see some parts of the country that I haven't been to before.”

When asked if KID will replace Martin's position, acting manager Scott Cheyne said, “Not at this time.”

“I haven't really decided what we're going to do in the immediate future,” Cheyne added. “Nothing I can talk about at this time.”


Pay-out coming for drought relief applicants

The Klamath Project Drought Relief Agency earlier this week approved more than 270 applications for federal relief funding.

The feds allocated $9.4 million in aid for land idling, groundwater pumping, and to offset costs associated with power. Of that amount, $9.16 million will be disbursed to qualified applicants. A handful of applications are pending verification, according to Marc Staunton, president of the KPDRA.

The rate per acre is $400, whether for A, B, or C ground, with total acres for distribution still being tallied.

“By the end of January, we expect to have people receiving checks,” Staunton said. “We still regret that we weren't able to do it earlier, as the need arose, but we feel like we were tasked with a really difficult situation.

“The biggest hold-up on time was us working out a contract with the U. S. government on delivering the water,” Staunton added.

The agency will likely have between $1 million and $1.5 million remaining that the KPDRA has yet to determine for distribution. The money will not need to be returned to the feds but is under the authority of the KPDRA.

KPDRA Board member Jerry Enman said the remaining funds could contribute to aid in the scenario of a drought in 2019.

“We completed our contract with the federal government. Our contract was to deliver 26,400 acre feet to the National Wildlife refuges. And by doing that, we received our $9.4 million.

“The task of the DRA was to get it to the people that need it to get through 2018 drought situation,” he added.

The federal spending bill initially set aside $10.3 million, about $900,000 of which was allocated for the eastside of the Klamath Basin through an agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation.

“We were able to make it work, and get some water to the refuge and likewise, reciprocate like they did this spring, and they were able to help us in a crunch time,” Staunton said.

“I think we both recognize a co-existing need of working together,” he added.

The board was set up in July 2018, but Staunton said the group is authorized to serve through June 2019.



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