Upper Klamath Lake (photo: Bureau of Reclamation)

Klamath Water Users Association urges calm during irrigation crisis

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Following the announcement that one of the Klamath Basin’s main irrigation canals won’t open this summer, the Klamath Water Users Association is asking for peace.

Last week, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the shutoff the A Canal, the principal irrigation canal for the Klamath Project, meaning thousands of farmers are without water for the irrigation season.

This past Thursday, several dozen people took to the streets of Klamath Falls to peacefully protest. Around 50 people gathered in front of the Klamath Irrigation District office. They asked for more water to be released from Upper Klamath Lake.

“The canal has been delivering water since 1907, and this is the first year in history that it will convey no water for irrigation,” said Paul Simmons, the KWUA’s executive director.

The Bureau of Reclamation released a letter last Wednesday announcing the decision. It says the water supply from Upper Klamath Lake is insufficient to operate the A Canal during the 2021 irrigation season.

“There are about 150,000 acres that can make use of water from the A Canal, they won’t get a drop from the A Canal this year,” said Simmons.

The Irrigation District Board of Directors recently met with representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation. Jared Bottcher, Acting Area Manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, said there isn’t much that can be done.

The Bureau of Reclamation anticipates only approximately 3,000 acre-feet of water will be available. That’s less than half the water needed to charge the A Canal.

“The heart of the matter is we simply don’t have the supply necessary to charge the canal this year. We understand the depth and magnitude of what this means for the Klamath Project,” said Bottcher.

Klamath Water Users Association President Ben DuVal said it’s catastrophic for farmers. “Water users are extremely upset with what the federal government is doing to us, and with good reason,” said DuVal. “Taking water from Project irrigators for ESA species is a failed experiment that has produced no benefit for the species.”

Despite the hardship, Duval, a farmer himself, said it’s important the community remain peaceful.

On May 19, the KWUA explained there are concerns actions could be taken this summer that are “inappropriate and damaging to irrigators’ cause.” The organization subsequently put out a call to stop the alleged “unacceptable behaviors.”

The KWUA stated, “Reports say that names and addresses of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation employees have been published on social media, inviting that anger be directed toward those public servants, and there have been other inappropriate communications.”

“Stop it,” DuVal said of the reported actions. “It is completely out of line. It will hurt Klamath Project agriculture.

The KWUA went on to say the Bureau of Reclamation is “not driving the decisions that are depriving irrigators of desperately needed water.”

“Reclamation is the messenger for bad news, but rarely the cause of that bad news,” said Director Simmons. “Blaming them for our problems reflects a lack of understanding, and will get no more results than blaming President Nixon for signing the Endangered Species Act.

According to the KWUA, there is a growing public focus on the local agricultural community, but dissent needs to remain peaceful.

“Help us get the facts out,” DuVal said, “but when it comes to people, stay focused on your family and neighbors.”

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