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Irrigators seek answers on water year

  • Bill Heiney, a third-generation Basin irrigator and descendant of a homesteader, was among several irrigators who sought answers from representatives of the Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies on hand on Friday during a meeting at Klamath County Fairgrounds.

    BOR's Klamath Basin Area Office hosted the gathering to share updated information released by NRCS, with representative panelists from U.S. Fish & Wildlife, California Coastal Office, and Reclamation's Sacramento office.

    Heiney and other irrigators need to know when they can start irrigating this year, which will affect their crops and livelihoods; answers that the Bureau cannot yet provide due to ongoing litigation and an evolving water year headed for a state-declared drought declaration.

    “When I bought my first piece of ground, my grandfather, he said, 'One thing you won't have to worry about is water,'” Heiney said, referring a water pact his grandfather had from the U.S. government.

    “We're getting really frustrated and time is of the essence,” he added. “If we don't get start-up dates, it's an end date for us … We need answers yesterday.”

    First-generation farmer and irrigator Joey Gentry, a member but not a spokesperson for the Klamath Tribes, turned to address attendees with a different perspective.

    “This has never been a war of the cowboys and the Indians,” Gentry said. “It's never farmers vs. Tribes. I want to ask how we are going to do more with less water?” she asked. “What are we doing to take ownership of the solution rather than blaming the Tribe, the fish, the feds?”

    Jeff Nettleton, manager of the Klamath Basin Area Office of the Bureau, and panelists from other federal agencies addressed irrigators' frustrations and concerns.

    “We are working very hard to come up with a Project allocation and the earliest start day that we possibly can,” Nettleton said. “We do have a proposed solution that we have been talking with water users about and working hard with them as well. We're moving that forward as rapidly as we can.”

    Scott White, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association, also said he hopes to bring in representatives from U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies that might be able to offer some financial relief.

    Projections for inflows to Upper Klamath Lake have significantly varied since January, and have been projected as low as 230,000 acre feet in February, according to Nettleton, or as high as 355,000 acre feet.

    “A lot of times by this time of year, we have a pretty solid idea of where we're at hydrologically and how much water we might be able to forecast for the Project,” Nettleton said. “This year, our hydrology is still developing.”

    Nettleton said the Bureau will update information for irrigators every couple of weeks.

    “We want to give you the very best information we possibly can so that you can make your business decisions based on that,” he said. “We're meeting literally all day long and sometimes through the night to try and figure out where we're at this water year.”

    Due to storms throughout the last month, snowpack increased from about 28 percent of average to about 47 percent of average, according to Nettleton, with the current precipitation total at 74 percent of average.

    Nettleton said the continued increases in precipitation and snowpack have helped, but it will not enough for a normal water year.

    “The likelihood of it catching up to average is slim this year,” he said. “The good news is we are significantly above 2015, which we were tracking very closely with until about three weeks or a month ago.”

    “We're faced with a very challenging water year, and less than average snow pack,” Nettleton added.

    “As a result there are a lot more competing water demands than there is available supply. And some of the challenges this year include the Klamath Project and all the agricultural needs.”



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