U.S. Water News Online
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The federal government has begun
taking applications for $4 million in payments to Klamath Reclamation
Project farmers who let their fields go dry and sell groundwater to
provide higher springtime flows for salmon in the Klamath River.
The payments are being made from a water bank started this year by
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to meet its obligations to fish under
the Endangered Species Act.
The agency is hoping it will not have to repeat the 2001
irrigation shutoff that brought upheaval to the basin.
The 55,000 acre feet of water purchased from farmers within the
project will likely be used to augment springtime flows down the
Klamath River, where coho salmon are listed as a threatened species,
said Dave Sabo, Klamath area manager for the bureau.
The bureau hopes to save about 30,000 acre feet of water by paying
farmers not to irrigate up to 12,000 acres of land throughout the
irrigation project that covers 235,000 acres straddling the
Oregon-California border. It also hopes to buy about 25,000 acre feet
of water from private wells.
About 700 people turned out at the Klamath County Fairgrounds in
Klamath Falls to hear about the water bank and pick up applications,
but many remain uneasy about the future, said Dan Keppen, executive
director of the Klamath Water Users Association.
With expectations of drought looming, there is no assurance that
the water bank will make it possible for farmers who choose to
continue farming to get their crops through the summer to harvest,
However, ``We are confident the Bush administration is trying to
do everything it can to make sure farmers get their water as well as
meeting these environmental needs,'' he said.
Dave Solem, general manager of the Klamath Irrigation District,
said there is still no long-term plan for operating the project that
is acceptable to irrigators, who believe the water demands for fish
are not supported scientifically.
Keppen added that farmers were working to get other government
agencies to augment the $187.50 an acre the bureau is offering to
idle land so people will have a greater incentive to take part.
With drought looming over the region, farmer Dick Carlton just
finished drilling a 530-foot-deep well to assure he has water to
finish his potato crop, but was considering selling some to the
``We can put water into the system, others can farm, water can go
down-river for fish and so forth,'' said Carlton. ``Everybody wins.''
Carlton noted he was not sure the money the bureau is offering to
forego irrigation on some fields will be enough to cover expenses,
such as taxes, lease payments and equipment payments, without
The water bank was proposed by the Bush administration as part of
a 10-year plan for managing endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake
and threatened coho in the Klamath River.
When the basin fell into drought in 2001, the bureau shut off
water to most of the 1,400 farms of the irrigation project to assure
water for protected fish. Farmers and their supporters reacted by
forcing open irrigation headgates until federal marshals were brought
in to guard them.
Last year, the bureau restored full irrigation to the farmers, but
33,000 salmon died in the lower Klamath River. The California
Department of Fish and Game blamed the deaths on low river flows due
The bureau will take applications for idling farmland through this
week, and applications to provide well water for two weeks after
that, said Sabo.
The bureau will choose lands that use a lot of water, such as
sandy soils, to produce low-value crops, such as pasture and alfalfa,
Next year, the bureau must generate 75,000 acre feet for fish and
in 2005 the goal is 100,000 acre feet.
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