|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • Klamath irrigation shutoffs unlikely until later this week

    Officials say measurements must be taken and water rights determined first
  • GRANTS PASS — Oregon state water officials figure they won't start shutting off irrigation in the drought-stricken upper Klamath Basin until later this week.
    • email print
  • GRANTS PASS — Oregon state water officials figure they won't start shutting off irrigation in the drought-stricken upper Klamath Basin until later this week.
    Doug Woodcock of the state Water Resources Department said Tuesday that first they must carefully measure the flow in rivers and streams where the Klamath Tribes and the federal government have exercised their senior water rights on tens of thousands of acres. Then they will work through the various water rights in the area, to see how many junior rights must be shut off to fulfill the senior rights of the tribes and the government.
    The tribes are protecting flows for fish in rivers running through their former reservation lands. The federal government is securing water for a federal irrigation project and wildlife refuges downstream. They issued what is known as a call on Monday to fulfill their water rights, which were recognized by an administrative law judge last March after decades of litigation.
    Faced with no water to irrigate pastures through the dry summer, ranchers around Fort Klamath, Chiloquin, Sprague River, Bly and Beatty are scrambling to find feed for more than 70,000 cattle.
    Mindful of the potential for violence when people's livelihoods are at stake, watermasters are taking precautions. Extra personnel have been sent in from Lakeview, Bend, Medford and Salem. Watermasters will travel in pairs, and notify the sheriff's office when and where they are going.
    District Attorney Rob Patridge said he has established contact with the tribes and irrigators in hopes of avoiding the kinds of tensions that marked the 2001 irrigation shutoff to farmers on the Klamath Reclamation Project, a federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border south of Klamath Falls.
    Meanwhile, the Klamath Tribes have had some contact with irrigators in the upper basin exploring the potential for a settlement that could ease the water tensions. But prospects for a deal appear dim.
    "We need a significant number of parties in the Williamson, Sprague, and Wood river systems to willingly participate in a settlement and commit to managing a healthy riparian corridor along streams," said Tribal chairman Don Gentry.
    "I believe this is essential to addressing water quality and other issues that are most affecting our local fisheries."
    Tom Mallams, an irrigator and Klamath County Commissioner, said he would like to reach a settlement, but it would have to be something approved by Congress, and include assurances of water, cheap power for irrigators and changes to the Endangered Species Act.
    Mallams and others are counting on winning an appeal of the administrative law judge's ruling that gave the tribes water rights dating to time immemorial on rivers flowing through their former reservation.
    Irrigators affiliated with the Upper Klamath Water Users Association favor joining a tentative settlement agreement between farmers on the Klamath Reclamation Project, the tribes and others. It addresses water supplies during times of shortage, and provides funding for watershed restoration. It has languished in Congress, along with an agreement to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and California.
    Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is holding a Senate committee hearing June 20 on the Klamath water situation. Irrigators, tribal officials and others are expected to testify.
Reader Reaction

      calendar