Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


Eureka, California August 30, 2004


The Honorable Mike Thompson
119 Cannon HOB
Washington, D.C. 20002

Dear Representative Thompson:

Thank you for this opportunity to submit testimony on behalf of the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA). I am Dan Keppen, and I serve as the executive director for KWUA, a non-profit corporation that has represented Klamath Irrigation Project farmers and ranchers since 1953. KWUA members include rural and suburban irrigation districts and other public agencies, as well as private concerns who operate on both sides of the California-Oregon border. We represent 5,000 water users, including 1,400 family farms that encompass over 200,000 acres of irrigated farmland.

I appreciate the opportunity to provide our perspective at this important meeting, and I applaud your leadership, Congressman Thompson, which helped to bring together this diverse group of agency and stakeholder representatives from throughout this 10.5 million acre watershed. I have submitted this testimony, as well as additional information that detail the points I will present, to your office, which I request that you include in the record developed for this briefing.

The family farmers and ranchers who I represent live over 200 miles from the mouth of the Klamath River. They receive their water from the federal Klamath Project, one of the first three reclamation projects constructed in the western United States. Next year marks the centennial anniversary of the congressional act that authorized its construction.

Because the Klamath Project has a federal nexus, its operations are regulated by federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and federal agency obligations to meet tribal trust concerns. Even though the consumptive water use of the Klamath Project represents just 3-4 percent of the total amount of water that flows out of the Klamath River into the Pacific Ocean, and even though the Project accounts for less than 40 percent of agricultural acreage in the Upper Klamath Basin, the federal nexus places incredible focus on the landowners I represent.

In the three years that I’ve served in my current position, I’ve witnessed an amazing barrage of criticism aimed at Klamath Project operations. This focus has been intensified in the wake of the 2002 die-off of 34,000 salmon on the Lower Klamath River. I’ve witnessed a battle that pits scientist against scientist, press release vs. press release, and strong statements made on both sides of the issue.

As we see it, Judge Saundra’s 2003 court decision and the independent National Research Council Committee did not accept arguments that the operation of the Klamath Project caused the 2002 fish die-off or that changes in the operation of the Project at the time would have prevented it. Next month, per the direction of Judge Armstrong, this specific issue will be addressed in her court in Oakland. Until she issues her final judgment, the indirect cause that attributed to the direct cause of mortality – massive infection by two types of pathogens – can only be a question of debate.

Much of the focus of today’s briefing has been on the low flow conditions that were apparent in the Klamath River in the late summer and fall of 2002. The singular focus on low flows – and the relative role played by flows in the 2002 mortality event – is really the issue upon which much of the recent controversy has revolved around. Today, I will not rise to the bait and espouse our position on this matter. We are currently spending significant funds and time preparing for next month’s court deliberations, and at that time, our arguments will be appropriately introduced. Rather, I would like to use this opportunity today to summarize what our farmers and ranchers have been doing to bolster Klamath River flows, Upper Klamath Lake levels, and help our neighbors on the Lower Klamath and Tulelake National Wildlife Refuges. It’s a story, unfortunately, that does not get a lot of coverage in media outlets outside of the Upper Basin.

Efforts to Improve Water Use Efficiency

Despite the fact that the Klamath Project is one of the most water-use efficient reclamation projects in the country, water users have demonstrated their willingness to participate in actions that might further stretch tight water supplies.

Over 800 growers have applied for 2002 Farm Bill funding to help cost-share projects that conserve water. These projects- which are evaluated on the basis of their ability to improve on-farm water use efficiency – require that 25 percent of the costs be carried by the landowner. This is especially remarkable, considering that many of the irrigators who have submitted applications are still recovering from the negative cash flows that resulted after the 2001 water cut off.

We hear constant criticism from some interests that Klamath Project irrigators continue to do what they have done for the past 97 years – irrigate their lands with the stored water created by the Project, without heed for new regulatory flows intended to address fish and tribal trust needs. I would like to briefly summarize what our irrigators have done in recent years, and I believe it will tell a completely different story.

While our association worked with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation prior to 2001 to develop a dry-year demand reduction program, the curtailment of water supplies that year, which essentially reallocated irrigation water to meet the needs of three fish species protected under the ESA, I will not talk about the sacrifice made by our irrigators that year. Instead, I will begin in 2002, which began the first of three years where irrigators have stepped up to meet a steadily increasing demand imposed by the U.S. Interior Department to meet environmental and tribal trust water demands in the Klamath River watershed.

2002 Pilot Water Bank and Voluntary Conservation Efforts


Reclamation’s 2003 water bank ultimately generated 59,651 AF of water for environmental purposes. This figure does not include another approx. 30,000 AF generated through voluntary groundwater pumping and conservation efforts undertaken by local water users, with no federal compensation.

2004 Klamath Project Pilot Water Bank

The 2004 bank is expected to provide over 75,000 AF to meet biological opinion conditions. This figure does not include 10,000 AF of stored refuge water that was originally intended to meet water bank needs, but was instead redirected by Reclamation to meet unspecified downstream "tribal trust" needs last spring. The 2004 figure also does not reflect the additional water that was sent downstream last week by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to meet tribal trust obligations.

Proposed 2005 Klamath Project Pilot Water Bank

Next year, the NOAA Fisheries biological opinion calls for a massive 100,000 AF water bank, regardless of actual hydrological conditions.

Efforts to Supplement Refuge Water Supplies

Farmers in the Tulelake area have long worked to help their wildlife neighbors in the Tulelake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges. This includes voluntary, early shutdowns of Tulelake Irrigation District in 1992, 1994 and 2000 to provide more water for environmental purposes. Tulelake farmers in 2002 and 2003 worked to provide whatever water they could to the refuges, similar to the 2001 effort where farmers provided groundwater to the refuges after the water cutoff left them dry. This water immediately began to replenish the wetlands and marshes vital to waterfowl, shorebirds and bald eagles that rely upon them for resting and feeding opportunities. Local growers are currently working with the refuge managers to investigate new opportunities to provide water to the refuges this fall.



It is clear that our irrigators have not been idle. We feel that we are doing all we can to be part of a constructive solution to meet the challenges we all face in this watershed. We are modifying our actions to generate water to meet these regulatory demands. We have no say in how that water is actually managed. The question I have heard the most this past year from our irrigators is this: Shouldn’t the agencies and interests who are calling for this water be held accountable for how this water is used?

This year, nearly 90,000 acre-feet of water will be reallocated away from the Klamath Project and towards ESA and tribal trust needs because farmers have idled land and pumped their own groundwater, and the national wildlife refuges have drained seasonal wetlands. Our Project, including the refuges, consumptively uses 350,000 acre-feet of water in an average water year. This year, we took actions that provided environmental water exceeding 25 percent of that value. This, despite a widespread community view that this water is achieving questionable value for the species it allegedly is intended to protect.

It’s awfully difficult to see good people criticized for trying, in their eyes, to do the right thing. I hope everyone here today will recognize the efforts of Klamath Project irrigators, and consider their contributions as you address what’s happening on the lower river, 200 miles from their homes.

Thank you.


Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
Phone (541) 883-6100
FAX   (541) 883-8893  

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