Klamath Basin water leaders react to Reclamation announcement

KLAMATH COUNTY, Ore. —The Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday a limited water supply for this irrigation season, amid continued drought conditions.

The Klamath Project is a system of dams, canals, and pumping plants, that runs along the pacific flyway in southern Oregon and northern California. Historically it has delivered up to 420,000 acre-feet of water to around 230,000 acres of irrigable land.

Reclamation says this year, the Klamath Project will receive around 50,000-acre-feet of water. It’ll be for limited irrigation, starting this Friday, April 15th. The bureau says it’s subject to meeting an end-of-water year Upper Klamath Lake elevation of no less than 4,138.15. Its objective is to have no less than 4,139.2 through July 15th.

“We wish we had better news today, obviously there are no winners in this critical year as all interests are suffering, fisheries, farmers, tribes but given the current hydrology that we have to work with, we did the best job we could,” said Reclamation Regional Director, Ernest Conant.

NBC5 News told you just last week the Klamath Irrigation District sent out a ballot to ranchers and farmers. It asked them to weigh in on federal drought funding. 319 out of 377 voted yes to the district attempting to deliver water, even if it complicates drought funding.

The bureau says any unauthorized diversions of water will result in reductions to the Klamath Project water allocation, along with appropriate legal action.

The Klamath Water Users Association called the government’s announcement Monday, “incredibly disheartening.” Last year, zero water was allotted through project facilities for irrigation for the first time in 118 years. The KWUA says this year’s supply, while more is the second-worst ever.

The Klamath Water Users Association represents irrigation water users, who produce food based on irrigation water supplies from Upper Klamath Lake. KWUA leaders say there is adequate water available this year to provide irrigation from Upper Klamath Lake to the Klamath Project.

The organization says project family farms and ranches will likely have less than 15% of the water they’ll need to produce crops. The KWUA’s Executive Director, Paul Simmons says many farmers will get zero water, some will get some, and few will get what they need.  He says moving forward the labor force will be negatively impacted.

“There are people who won’t have jobs who have worked for certain farmers for decades. There will be kids at school who will lose their friends because their family had to move because their parents can’t work, that’s the nature of what we are talking about,” said Simmons.

Along with Monday’s water allotment, reclamation announced $20 million in immediate aid to the Klamath Project, through the drought response agency for this irrigation season. An extra $5 million in technical assistance is also becoming available to Klamath Basin Tribes for tribally led projects, according to reclamation.

The details of the plans are available on the reclamation’s Klamath Basin area office website.

NBC5 News Reporter Jenna King is a Burbank native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at the U of O, she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through interning with the PAC 12 Network. When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors, or binging on the latest Netflix release.
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