Farm, fish on California-Oregon border to get less water

Portland, Ore. (AP) — Farms relying on irrigation from a depleted, federally managed lake on the California-Oregon border as well as a Native American tribe are fighting to protect the fragile salmon, both reunited this summer Much less water would come as a historic drought and record-low reservoir levels draws into the US West.

The more than 1,000 farmers and ranchers who draw water from the 257-mile-long (407-kilometer) river that flows into the Pacific Ocean from Upper Kalamath Lake will have about a seventh of the amount they receive in a wet year. , a federal agency announced Monday. If the reservoir is full the downstream salmon will get about half the water.

This is the third year in a row that severe drought has affected farmers, fisheries and tribes in a region that does not have enough water to meet competing demands.

The US Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the irrigation project, announced $15 million in relief for affected farmers and $5 million for Native American tribes as a result of its decision, and warned farmers against what was ordered. Do not take more water than that or risk further irrigation reduction and legal action. The agency decides the allocation each year, taking into account court decisions that required certain lake levels to support the two federally endangered fish species.

Water inflows into Upper Klamath Lake are at record levels and water allocation could further decline if the drought situation worsens this summer, water managers said. Last summer, the irrigators got no water at all.

“I wish we had better news today. Clearly there are no winners in this critical year because all interests are suffering – fisheries, farming tribes and waterfowl – but given the current hydrology we have to work with, we have done the best. has done,” said Ernest Conant, regional director of the bureau.

The irrigators reacted to the news with shock and anger, saying they were not sure they could survive another growing season without an adequate water supply. The amount of water available is less than 15% of what farmers need, said Ben Duvall, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, which operates a farm in Tulleke, California.

“We have 170,000 acres (68,800 hectares) that can be irrigated this year and are ready to go to work,” he said. “In one acre, we can produce 50,000 pounds (22,700 kg) of potatoes, or 6,000 pounds (2,700 kg) of wheat. This year, most of that land will have no food as the government is denying water for irrigation.”

Water from the Klamath River, which dammed into Upper Klamath Lake, is the main focus of the nearly 200,000-acre (80,940-hectare) Klamath Project, a major agricultural powerhouse of more than 1,000 farms and ranches. Today the farmers there grow everything from mint to alfalfa to potatoes that goes into In ‘N Out Burger, Frito-Lay and Kettle Foods.

But the reservoir’s water is also a source of conflict between competing demands, and there hasn’t been enough water left in recent years amid historic droughts. Before 2020, the last time the Klamath Basin allocated water was in 2001, when the US government sent federal marshals to the area during a year of drought and farmers threatened to break down the head gates.

Under the law, the lake’s water must be kept at a certain level to protect its sucker fish, a key species of heirloom klamath tribes in southern Oregon. This year’s water ruling ordered irrigators to keep lake water above a certain level for sucker fish in April and May, and then at a different level for the rest of the summer.

Farmers can start draining limited water from Friday.

But beneath the reservoir, federally threatened coho salmon, which live in the lower Klamath River, also require pulses of water from the lake to keep the deadly parasite that thrives in the warm and slow-moving waters. Is. Salmon is revered by the Yurok tribe, the second largest Native American tribe in California.

A so-called “flushing flow” of water that is about half of the normal amount – and half of what farmers get – will also be released on Friday.

Yurok vice chairman Frankie Myers said the fact that salmon, suckling fish and waterfowl are competing for the area’s waters “was a direct indication of the ecological collapse brought on by the drainage.” He said that Yurok would never stop working to save salmon.

“While we are satisfied that the river has been provided with minimal protection under this scheme, this is not a time for celebration. Salmon runs will continue to suffer under these circumstances, and as climate change intensifies, security will become increasingly important,” Myers said.

The reduced water allocation for the Klamath Reclamation Project will affect two National Wildlife Refugees in the area that are fed by irrigation runoff. Refugees host thousands of migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway. Last year, environmentalists and farmers used pumps to mix water from two stagnant wetlands into a deep one to prevent another outbreak of avian botulism that killed 50,000 ducks in 2020.

In 2020, irrigators received three times the amount predicted for this year – still almost half of normal – but last summer the project did not receive irrigation water at all. Farmers left fields fallow or had to rely on groundwater wells, and the area briefly became a flashpoint for anti-government activists who held rallies there.

Hundreds of domestic wells, affected by increased groundwater pumping, have dried up since last summer.

Last summer, the bureau also did not release any so-called “flushing flows” from Upper Klamath Lake to raise water levels in the lower Klamath River for Coho salmon.

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