No water: Farmers reel after announcement they’ll get zero allocation from Klamath Project

The Siskiyou Daily News – by Skye Kinkade 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday that more than 1,000 farmers in the Klamath Basin will not receive any reserved water from Upper Klamath Lake — a devastating prospect for farmers who have already planted fields, hired crews and made plans for the growing season ahead.

“Growers and irrigation districts have spent the entire spring re-engineering and building systems to deliver meager surface and well water to their fields,” said the Shut Down & Fed Up organization — which advocates to sustain the future of agriculture in the Klamath Basin — in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “With a zero allocation, all of this work is for naught.”

Farmers in Klamath, Siskiyou and Modoc counties were already reeling over the prospect of receiving less than 10% of their allotment, or a total of 33,000 acre-feet of water.

The latest announcement feels “like a punch to the gut,” farmers said in the “Shut Down” group’s post.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees water allocations in the federally-owned Klamath Project, cited “increasing extreme drought conditions in combination with operations for threatened and endangered species” for the decision to keep the Klamath Project’s “A” Canal closed this season.

Earlier this month, supervisors of Oregon’s Klamath County as well as the Board of Supervisors in California’s Siskiyou and Modoc counties approved a letter asking for financial help to curb the effects of the lack of irrigation water in the Klamath Project. The letter will be sent to California and Oregon congressional leaders and also to President Joe Biden.

“This means that hundreds of family farms will not be able to produce the crops and livestock that have not only been the hallmark of the Klamath Basin, but that also provide food and fiber throughout the world,” the letter states.

“In addition, and just as importantly, thousands of farm and ranch workers will be left without employment, and businesses that rely on active farming and ranching will experience a profound decrease in business. Sadly, our National Wildlife Refuges will also suffer, which will have far-ranging implications up and down the Pacific Flyway,” the letter continues.

In the correspondence, supervisors asked for $45 million for funding programs of the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency.

Not enough water to go around

The situation in the Klamath Basin was set in motion more than a century ago, when the U.S. government began drawing water from a network of shallow lakes and marshlands and funneling it into the dry desert uplands. Homesteads were offered by lottery to World War II veterans who grew hay, grain and potatoes and pastured cattle.

The project turned the region into an agricultural powerhouse — some of its potato farmers supply In-N-Out Burger restaurants — but permanently altered an intricate water system that spans hundreds of miles from southern Oregon to Northern California.

In 1988, two species of sucker fish were listed as endangered under federal law, and less than a decade later, coho salmon that spawn downstream from the reclamation project, in the lower Klamath River, were listed as threatened.

The water necessary to sustain the coho salmon downstream comes from Upper Klamath Lake — the main holding tank for the farmers’ irrigation system. At the same time, the sucker fish in the same lake need at least 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 centimeters) of water covering the gravel beds that they use as spawning grounds.

In a year of extreme drought, there is not enough water to go around. Already this spring, the gravel beds that the sucker fish spawn in are dry and water gauges on Klamath River tributaries show the flow is the lowest in nearly a century. A decision late last summer to release water for irrigators, plus a hot, dry fall with almost no rain has compounded an already terrible situation.

The Bureau of Reclamation also announced Wednesday that a Klamath River surface flushing flow for salmon will not be implemented this year.

One thought on “No water: Farmers reel after announcement they’ll get zero allocation from Klamath Project

  1. Food security is quickly becoming an issue

    We just gonna sit here and let these fcks starve us out ?

    There’s a way bigger picture going on here than just this

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