Thousands of acres of agriculture on the Oregon-California border rely on water from the Klamath Project. This year, farmers and ranchers in the region will have access to 215,000 acre-feet of water from Upper Klamath Lake, according to a Thursday, April 13, announcement from the federal Bureau of Reclamation.
The water policy director for the agricultural lobbying organization Klamath Water Users Association, Moss Driscoll, stated that although this allocation is more than in prior drought years, it still needs to be improved.
“This is only half our historical demand. So this is a significant reduction in water availability for the Klamath Project compared to quote-unquote normal operations,” he said. Because of the prolonged drought, last year’s allotment was just a fifth of this year’s. Driscoll warned that farmers in the area faced tough choices due to a lack of available water.
“There’s a great deal of uncertainty. I was just on the phone with a farmer who he’s going to have to wait for further information before he can decide what his plans are for this year,” he said.
As one official said, “Frankly, we never thought we’d be in a position where we’d have so much snow and rain in the Klamath Basin and have such a paltry irrigation supply.”
The native Klamath people are worried about the dwindling populations of culturally important fish in Upper Klamath Lake, such as the Lost River and shortnose sucker. According to Clayton Dumont, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, he is “cautiously optimistic” about the effects of this year’s allotment on the suckers.
“At this point, we’ve really been bailed out by having a really good year for precipitation,” he said. He considers this year’s allotment a “bailout,” but he anticipates considerably reduced allocations in the coming years, similar to what was seen during previous droughts.
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“I think what they have experienced in more recent years is closer to, you know, the norm going forward than this,” he said. In addition to committing $13 million to fund drought resilience programs and ecosystem restoration projects in the area, the Bureau of Reclamation has allocated 35,000 acre-feet of water from Gerber Reservoir and Clear Lake Reservoir.
According to Mary Lee Knecht, the public affairs officer for the Bureau of Reclamation California-Great Basin, “The 2023 Klamath Project allocations are developed based on existing environmental conditions and projected reservoir inflow forecasts from the California Nevada River Forecast Center (CNRFC).”
“Data from the CNRFC is being utilized as it provides data on a daily and monthly basis allowing Reclamation to more accurately project what water supply will be available for Klamath Project contractors. Klamath Project allocations may be adjusted, depending on experienced inflows in subsequent months.”