U.S. Water News Online
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. -- Now that farmers in the Klamath
Basin will be getting a trickle water for their livestock and crops,
they face the task of deciding where it should go, and how much they
and their neighbors should get.
``The minute people see it in the ditches, they're going to be
taking whatever they can,'' said Chris Miles, who ranches between the
towns of Merrill and Malin. ``I don't blame them, because I'll be
doing the same thing.''
The irrigation is starting in July in this area along the
Oregon-California border. Normally it begins in April, but the
federal government withheld water to about 1,400 farmers and ranchers
who belong to the Klamath Project, using the water to aid struggling
sucker fish and coho salmon.
Recently, Interior Secretary Gale Norton freed up some water after
officials determined there was more in the Upper Klamath Lake than
previously thought. Water began flowing into irrigation canals in
late July, but it will take 2-3 weeks for the water to work its way
through the estimated 1,400 miles of canals that crisscross the
``We may have to consider limitations on time and quantity to make
sure everyone has a shot,'' said Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath
Irrigation District. ``We know people are not going to be extremely
patient, because every day the likelihood of their land being
productive gets less and less.''
Land owners are getting ready by clearing weeds that have sprouted
in the dirt canals and preparing sprinkler systems and other
irrigation equipment. Many still don't know whether the water will
``People have an emotional attachment to their fields, and they
want to get some water on them,'' Harold Hartman said. Hartman is
president of the Malin Irrigation District, which is among the
smallest of the nearly 20 districts that will get a shot at the
little water that is being released.
``But you have to be practical,'' Hartman said, ``and not use
water where it's not going to do any good, because it's needed
The 75,000 acre-feet of water that Norton ordered released
represents barely one-fifth of what farms would use in a normal
season, and no one knows exactly how much they will get.
Miles is hoping he gets enough to save his dry fields so he can
bring in the purebred cattle he has grazing on a distant pasture,
which he's renting for $1,100 a month.
``All these folks are just desperate, waiting for politicians to
make a decision while people lose their livelihoods,'' he said. ``I
think everyone will be practical with what they use. I think everyone
learned at least that much from this whole deal.''
Earlier this summer, the situation raised tensions among farmers
and ranchers looking for seepage in drainage ditches or overflow from
wells. After desperate farmers forced open headgates to the main
irrigation canal on July 4, some farmers camped out to keep their
more militant peers from wasting more water.
Farmers who couldn't afford their irrigation fees, or who stopped
payment because they gave up on getting any water this year, cannot
use any of the recently released water until they pay up.
``I talked to one guy who sold all his irrigation equipment to pay
his bills,'' said Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath Irrigation
District. ``Now he says, `I can't take water even if I wanted to.''
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