Western Farm Press Logo

Klamath allocation falls short despite storms

Irrigators express ‘deep disappointment’ over 2024 ag water announcement.

Tim Hearden, Western Farm Press

April 24, 2024

2 Min Read
Klamath Project canal
The Klamath Irrigation Project's main canal south of Klamath Falls, Ore.Tim Hearden

Irrigators in the Klamath Basin straddling the Oregon-California state line expressed “deep disappointment” over a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation water allocation that fell 35% below the estimated need despite this season’s normal precipitation.

The bureau of mid-April announced the initial 2024 allocation for the Klamath Project would be 230,000 acre-feet from Upper Klamath Lake, leaving open the possibility that water supplies could be increased later.

The shortfall will leave some farmers without surface water for the fifth straight year, Klamath Water Users Association officials complain.

“This winter, we have watched water be released to flush sediment in the Klamath River to mitigate impacts of dam removal,” KWUA Executive Director Paul Simmons said. “We have bent over backward to put water on our national wildlife refuges. Within a few weeks, Upper Klamath Lake will be completely full for the first time in seven years, and the snowpack is in good shape for this time of year.

“Yet we are looking at the fifth-worst allocation in the 120 years since the Klamath Project was authorized,” he said.

Bureau officials say that despite this year’s normal precipitation, conditions have not fully rebounded from consecutive years of drought, particularly given constraints on water storage and conveyance in the basin.

The 2024 initial allocations are based on analysis of existing hydrologic conditions and inflow forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, officials said. Changes in hydrology this spring could influence future announcements, they said.

“We are pleased the hydrology for the 2024 water year continues to be favorable over last year’s, but we recognize that inflows into Upper Klamath Lake have not materialized in a manner that allows all water demands to be met with this allocation," said Karl Stock, the BO’'s regional director.

Irrigators wanted more

In addition to water from Upper Klamath River, Reclamation officials say they’re also making available 35,000 acre-feet from Gerber Reservoir and 35,000 to 40,000 acre-feet from Clear Lake Reservoir. However, irrigators believe they should be getting more.

“I can’t plan to finance a crop based on water that I don’t know about today,” said Rob Unruh, a KWUA board member and third-generation farmer in the Shasta View Irrigation District. “I thought this would surely be the year when we did not have to watch fields dry up and blow away, but I guess not.”

The calculation of the initial allocation is based on an interim plan from 2020 that has not been followed in any year, Simmons said.

Reclamation also announced funding of $8.5 million for the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency, which provides income for project contractors who agree not to irrigate. The KWUA asserts more farms will need this program, potentially leading to a $5.5 million shortfall.

“with this kind of allocation, we will need all that funding and more,” Unruh said.

Reclamation last year boosted their allocation in late spring, from 215,000 acre-feet initially to 260,000 acre-feet from Upper Klamath Lake.

About the Author(s)

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like