© 2022 KLCC

136 W 8th Ave
Eugene OR 97401

Contact Us

FCC Applications
Oregon's Willamette Valley seen from Eugene
NPR for Oregonians
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Feds cut water off to Klamath farmers for remainder of season

An OPB file photo of the drought drought-parched Klamath Basin of Oregon and California.
Devan Schwartz
An OPB file photo of the drought drought-parched Klamath Basin of Oregon and California.

The announcement from the federal Bureau of Reclamation was addressed to three irrigation districts in the farming communities along the Oregon-California border. It marks the end of available water that can be diverted from Upper Klamath Lake, the large body of water that feeds farms and several National Wildlife Refuges along the state line.

According to Paul Simmons, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, residents are frustrated because of mixed messages about how much water they would get this year.

“There’s been just quite a lot of changing of information and expectations created and changed that have made this extremely troubling and not well received,” Simmons said.

Demands on water in the Klamath Basin are widespread, whether or not the region is in a severe drought.

Water levels are maintained in Upper Klamath Lake to protect several species of endangered sucker fish. Water is also released from the lake to flow downriver, to protect habitat for endangered coho salmon. Several Native American tribes that live near Klamath Lake and the Klamath River also possess senior water rights, giving them priority access.

The same water is also in demand for a series of National Wildlife Refuges for migratory birds that are located along the Oregon-California border. Those refuges often go without water during years of low precipitation.

Simmons says at 62,000 acre feet, the water allotment for the 2022 growing season was only about 20% of what farmers wanted. But a wet spring led to hopes that irrigation supplies would be extended.

In a written response from the three irrigation districts, which make up nearly all the Klamath Project agricultural uses, Tulelake Irrigation District Manager Brad Kirby warned that the water shutdown could translate to crops dying prematurely this season.

Copyright 2022 Jefferson Public Radio. To see more, visit Jefferson Public Radio.

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.