Tribal water call: 'Devastating'
Ranchers in the upper basin react to water call
Herald and News by Gerry O'Brien 4/19/17
call on water by the Klamath Tribes will be devastating
economically for the cattlemen in the Upper Basin, affected
ranchers said Tuesday.
Tribes made the call last week. A water call puts the rest
of the secondary water users on notice that the Tribes
intend to use its water allocation in the Williamson,
Sprague and possibly the Wood rivers for the benefit of fish
habitat over irrigation for farming and cattle operations.
call is potentially devastating to both irrigators and the
Tribes,” said Becky
Hyde, a member of a long-time cattle ranching family in
the Upper Basin above Upper Klamath Lake. “Our ag
communities want what is best for the fish as well, but this
puts a tremendous strain on our relationship with the
the call focuses on the current high water flows in the
rivers — and if they fall to a certain level, irrigators can
actually irrigate — there is still the concern that the
irrigation window will be short-lived.
is the first time the regulations have taken effect with
spring runoff, which could run to June 1 or end sooner.
and several other ranchers spent years hammering out an
Upper Basin agreement over water use with the Tribes. That
agreement is still on the books, but has no funding behind
it, hence is moot. The agreement would retire some 18,000
acres of land from use to put water back into the streams.
In turn, there will be water security for ranchers.
Nicholson, whose family also has historic cattle ranches on
the Wood River, said the economic impact will be huge. A
water call has not been made on the Wood, but Nicholson
are some 30,000 head of cattle that are moved into the area
from ranches in California,” Nicholson said. “The grass in
the Fort Klamath area is highly nutritious, but it is only
good in the summer as it’s too cold to keep cattle there in
the winter. Most ranches are not setup for stock water. If
there is no water, the cattle will be kept in California,
crowding out those ranch resources.”
have yearlings who need to grow all summer on grass,” Hyde
said. “It’s a scramble to find alternative grazing. If you
multiply that across the region, the water call a big deal,”
she said. “We will be OK in the spring thanks to the early
moisture and growing grasses. After that, it could be
couple of years back, Hyde shipped some cattle out after
water supplies dwindled.
“This will be worse. There will be no water,” Hyde said.
Randall Kizer, who is a
fifth-generation rancher on the Sprague and Wood, said,
“When you have a snowpack at 138 of average and there is
still a call for water, something is wrong.” Kiser, too,
worked on the water pact with the tribes. Some 150 large and
small ranches on the Sprague will be affected by the call.
a serious situation,” Kizer said.
would be nice if we could negotiate a settlement, finalize
it and keep moving” he said. “This call affects everybody in
the Upper Basin. When we last met in February, the Tribes
told us they were ‘settlement-minded.’”
Chairman Don Gentry said of the call Monday, “I understand
the concerns for the agricultural community, but there needs
to be concerns for the status of our fisheries.”
Hyde and Nicholson point out that the agreements work both
ways. The idea was to have cattlemen build fences to keep
cattle out of the rivers so fish habitat could grow.
you don’t have fences, it stands to reason the cattle will
be drinking from the river,” Nicholson said, damaging
habitat and eroding banks.
having water doesn’t restore habitat,” Hyde said. “That’s
where everyone loses. The Klamath Tribes have a powerful
card that they are playing, but that doesn’t, mean they win
in the end.”
Since this is the first type of
spring runoff regulations involving tribal with water rights,
Diana Enright of the Oregon Water Resources Department,
encourages irrigators to check the state website almost daily
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