[env-trinity] Times-Standard: Feds cut off irrigation to some Klamath Project farms

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Aug 6 08:30:22 PDT 2014


Feds cut off irrigation to some Klamath Project farms
Decision comes a day after ending fish-kill preventative releases
By Jeff Barnard
The Associated Press
and Will Houston
whouston at times-standard.com @Will_S_Houston on Twitter
POSTED:   08/05/2014 10:58:53 PM PDT0 COMMENTS
UPDATED:   08/05/2014 10:58:53 PM PDT

GRANTS PASS, ORE. >> In a decision similar to last week's cessation of releases to the lower Klamath and Trinity rivers, water is being cut off to about one-third of the farms on a federal irrigation project in the drought-parched Klamath Basin of Oregon and California.
A July 31 letter from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to irrigation districts says that the flows into the Klamath Reclamation Project's primary reservoir have been below pre-season forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, forcing a reduction in releases to districts with junior claims on water in order to meet minimum water levels for endangered fish. The letter was signed by bureau Klamath Area Manager Sheryl L. Franklin.
The letter came a day after the bureau announced it would end fish-kill preventative releases to the lower Klamath and Trinity rivers from Trinity Lake, and would only release water in an emergency situation — when fish sicken or die. The water will instead be released from the Lewiston Dam to the Sacramento River and Clear Creek tributary to protect federally endangered salmon as part of the bureau's Central Valley Project. The bureau had performed releases to the lower Klamath and Trinity rivers four times since 2003 to aid chinook salmon and steelhead during warm, low-water periods after a massive fish kill occurred on the Klamath River in 2002.
A population survey conducted in July on the Salmon River, a tributary of the Klamath River, found 54 dead adult chinook salmon and steelhead along with hundreds of dead juveniles.
Regarding the bureau's reasoning behind curtailing the Klamath and Trinity rivers pre-emptive releases, Karuk Tribe Klamath Coordinator Craig Tucker said he is not convinced.
"The divide of water that is being requested for the Trinity releases, relative to how much is being diverted to the Central Valley, is not nearly as much," Tucker said. "I'm not sure if I accept the bureau's explanation there."
Greg Addington of the Klamath Water Users Association said Tuesday that the most recent cutoff means no more water for 50,000 acres of the project. Most of those farms produce hay, and losing irrigation will mean they lose up to half their crop for the year, he said.
Addington expects there will be enough water for the remaining farms on the project to finish the season.
Rain and snowfall over the winter was the lowest in 20 years and the third lowest on record, he said. The drought is worse than in 2001, when irrigation was shut off to nearly all of the project to maintain water for endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.
The lake is the project's primary reservoir. The river is the lake's natural outflow.
"It's a mess," Addington said. "Our guys have seen this train wreck coming for a while. We have worked hard with other stakeholders to try to address these issues. We are not there yet. We've got a bill in Congress. That doesn't help us on the ground today."
Tucker also spoke with Addington recently on the two bureau decisions.
"I was telling him how bad things are for fish down here, and he was telling me how bad things are for farmers up there," Tucker said. "Years like this, everybody suffers from one end of the basin to the other. The irrigators on the Klamath Project have gotten a lot less water this year than they're used to getting, and there's no doubt about that."
The region's perennial water problems prompted the development of plans to remove four dams from the Klamath River to help salmon and give farmers greater certainty on irrigation expectations. But the proposals have stalled in Congress, where they have been opposed by House Republicans.
Tucker said U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon plans to reintroduce the bill to the Senate Committee of Finance, which he chairs, to get the wheels turning again.
"I think because he wants to be the one who controls when the bill gets voted on," Tucker said. "I think this is a positive move forward."
The Bureau of Reclamation did not immediately return telephone calls and an email seeking comment.
The bureau has already turned down requests from tribes and others to increase flows down the Klamath River to prevent an outbreak of a parasite that attacks salmon in low water conditions.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.
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