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Water managers announce 2024 allocations for Klamath Basin agriculture

 The mainstem Klamath River running alongside Miller Island, looking towards Mt. Shasta.
Jason Jaacks
The mainstem Klamath River running alongside Miller Island, looking towards Mt. Shasta.

The agency’s initial water allocation to farmers from Upper Klamath Lake is 230,000 acre-feet, which is slightly less than last year’s supply.

Farmers are only getting around two-thirds of the water they want, according to Moss Driscoll, the director of water policy with the Klamath Water Users Association. He said there could be more water allocated later in the season, but farmers need to make decisions about their crops now.

“That’s not a fair request to just tell them to be patient when that’s not a choice right now,” Driscoll said.

The Bureau was not available to comment on Monday’s announcement.

According to the 2024 operations plan, there is likely enough water to fully supply repayment and settlement contractors, which represent about 105,000 acres of land, according to Driscoll.

There may be limited supply available for so-called “Warren Act Surplus Water contractors,” which constitute around 60,000 acres and other contractors who are provided water after everyone else.

According to the Bureau it, “delivers water for irrigation and related purposes to approximately 230,000 acres in southern Oregon and northern California.”

The plan also highlights one new factor this year, the ongoing restoration of the Klamath River that’s happening alongside the removal of four hydroelectric dams.

In its report, the agency said it’s limited in the amount of water that can be released at once down the Klamath River to avoid damaging environmental restoration work. Crews are currently replanting the banks of several former reservoirs with native species. Driscoll said less water sent downriver could mean there will be extra available for other uses.

He said the KWUA is in negotiations with local tribes to see if potential excess water can be given to farmers, who have more junior water rights.

“Frankly we don’t have to be in conflict and we don’t have to be issuing press releases calling for increased allocations,” Driscoll said. “But instead we can be looking at longer term projects to improve our efficiency and make our operations sustainable.”

The local tribes and the water users association signed a landmark agreement in mid-February to collaborate on ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability projects. That agreement is intended to reduce water demands in the basin.

The Bureau also announced on Monday an additional $8.5 million in funding for drought resiliency projects and an additional $5 million in ecosystem restoration money for Klamath Basin tribes.

That $8.5 million would likely be used for a program where farmers are paid to not take water, said Driscoll. Farmers received $20 million in drought relief funding in 2022, when the Bureau provided the second-lowest water allocation in history.
Copyright 2024 Jefferson Public Radio.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the west coast. When not out in the field, Roman enjoys travelling and cross-stitching.