The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is backpedaling on a plan to further slash water deliveries to Klamath Basin farmers this summer, as the agency is reverting to an earlier allocation of 140,000 acre-feet.
The bureau in May signaled plans to cut its allocation to 80,000 acre-feet as part of a three-year operating plan, which was initiated under an agreement with the Yurok Tribe. Growers had planted their crops based on the higher allocation, and the further cut threatened to leave some 200,000 acres of farms without surface water by midsummer.
But the bureau announced late Tuesday it could fulfill the initial allocation because the Natural Resource Conservation Service forecast for Upper Klamath Lake inflows increased from the May 1 forecast.
“This has been a devastatingly dry year and difficult for all stakeholders in the Klamath Basin,” Commissioner Brenda Burman said in a news release. “Reclamation has worked to find achievable solutions for the limited water supply in the basin. Although the project remains at a painful, record low allocation, I am pleased that the recent improvement in lake inflow allows Reclamation to stabilize water supplies for Klamath Project water users this year. Continued input from stakeholders and resources agencies will be important as we navigate the immediate drought and seek long-term solutions.”
Reclamation's latest decision comes after some 2,000 people participated in a heavy equipment convoy through the basin on May 29 to demand more water. In a rally reminiscent of the 2001 "bucket brigade" protests that gained national attention, many of the tractors and trucks making the 20-mile journey displayed handmade signs with messages such as “Save our farms” and “No water, no farms, no food.”
Working with federal officials
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., whose district includes part of the basin, said he's been working with officials in President Donald Trump's administration on the water delivery issue for over a month.
“The administration heard our pleas loud and clear and were able to fulfill the allocation of water that was forecast in April," Walden said "While this will help most farmers get through this crop year, I’m doubling down on my efforts to get a longer-term fix for the Basin.
"As I said at the rally, it’s time for a reset," he said. "Despite every effort, the government’s schemes to save the sucker fish have not improved the survival of the sucker fish, but have harmed farmers. Every year we go through the same fights and get the same outcomes. Enough is enough. This strategy is a failure,”
Last Friday, Walden traveled aboard Air Force One with Trump and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and continued to advocate for basin farmers, he said. He gave the president a letter urging him to convene a multi-agency task force, including the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture, to collaborate and find a solution for Klamath Basin farmers.
While the 140,000 acre-foot allotment is still only 40 percent of the water the project gets from Upper Klamath Lake in a normal year, "it will help to get them through the remainder of the growing season with the crops they currently have in the ground," Northern California's Republican Rep. Doug LaMalfa said in a Facebook post.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the basin to be in moderate drought following a dry winter.