Klamath farmers face ongoing water cutbacks


Issue Date: June 27, 2018
By Steve Adler

For hundreds of farmers in the Klamath Project, two water delivery plans released last week by the Bureau of Reclamation amount to what one farmer called "too little, too late."

Farmer Ben DuVal of Tulelake, who serves as president of the Modoc County Farm Bureau, said the late announcement by the bureau makes it impossible for farmers to plan and be able to make decisions for their businesses.

"Half the year has already gone," DuVal said. "This is the first time it has ever been this late. I understand that there were some challenges with the drought, but ordinarily we get the operations plan in March or April."

He called the mid-June release timing "absolutely ridiculous."

"There is more than enough water for everybody to get some," DuVal said. "We have been very good at stretching the very limited supplies this year and, as a result, there is extra water. But for these farmers to not get any water is going to cause some serious financial problems."

Currently, water deliveries are determined by the terms of contracts between water districts and the bureau. Some districts will not receive deliveries as a result.

DuVal also noted that according to district calculations, there is a difference of opinion about water availability, with the districts asserting that an additional 50,000 acre-feet of water is available and should be made available for agriculture.

According to the bureau, the two plans—operational and drought—are based on current reservoir storage and anticipated hydrologic conditions. The operations plans outline water deliveries during the 2018 spring-summer irrigation season for more than 230,000 irrigated acres on the Klamath Project in Northern California and southern Oregon.

The bureau said its plans also address flows required by a 2017 court order and 2013 biological opinion on Klamath Project operations.

"This a very challenging water year, both hydrologically and due to the court requirements," said Jeff Nettleton, the bureau's Klamath Basin Area Office manager. "The lack of snowpack this year, combined with legal obligations to mitigate disease risk in coho salmon in the Klamath River, has resulted in a stressful irrigation season for irrigators and the overall community."

But Klamath farmers foresee big problems with the plan, DuVal said.

"Their operations plan is very conservative, to the point where it is unnecessarily going to cause some farmers to not get any deliveries this year," he said, "and at the same time there is going to be extra water at the end of the year. We are glad to see any allocation we can get, but for a lot of guys it is too late. You can't plant a crop at this time of year."

Another area of concern for Klamath farmers is a lawsuit filed by Klamath tribes in May that could affect water supplies. In the suit, filed against the bureau and federal fishery agencies, the tribes argue that conditions in Upper Klamath Lake have led to reduced populations of endangered shortnose and Lost River suckerfish. The tribes seek higher lake levels.

The case is scheduled to be heard July 20.

DuVal said there is no scientific evidence to support the claims being made in the lawsuit.

"We have been doing higher and higher lake levels for the past 25 years and it hasn't worked at all," he said, adding that sucker populations are affected by a number of factors other than lake levels.

"But we know it is going to cause devastation to the Klamath Project. If they are successful in their lawsuit, the project will be shut off and guys who have already planted crops and spent all the money, they are going to lose those crops. That will bankrupt a lot of guys," he said.

(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at sadler@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.