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Navigating the Waters: The Klamath Basin’s 2024 Water Crisis

Gene Souza

The Heart of the Crisis

Bureau of Reclamation illegal plans for Klamath Project irrigators 2024, Klamath Irrigation District Executive Director Gene Souza responds to inquiry: posted to KBC 5/4/2024
   With an extremely wet water year, we at KBC asked Klamath Irrigation District/KID Executive Director: 

“Gene Souza, will this be like a recent year when the Bureau illegally denied us farmers our stored irrigation water, bribed us $$$$$$$ to commit to fallowing our fields, then said if a district sued the Bureau, they would deny all the farmers in all the districts their promised fallow payment. ???? Is that what’s happening this year again?”

The Klamath Basin, a region known for its rich agricultural heritage and diverse ecosystems, finds itself at a crossroads in 2024. Amid an exceptionally wet year, the Bureau of Reclamation’s water management plans have ignited a firestorm of controversy, pitting farmers’ rights against environmental considerations. This article delves into the complexities of the situation, exploring the implications for local farmers, wildlife, and the broader community.

At the core of the Klamath Basin’s water crisis is the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision-making regarding water allocations. Despite the abundance of rainfall, the Bureau’s 2024 plans have not deviated from the contentious strategies of previous years. These plans have historically led to conflicts over water rights, exacerbating tensions between agricultural needs and environmental protections.

The legal landscape further complicates the water crisis. Recent rulings have prioritized the Endangered Species Act over constitutional water rights, challenging the traditional understanding of water allocation. This prioritization has sparked debates over the balance between protecting endangered species and supporting the agricultural community’s livelihood.

Impact on the Agricultural Community

The projected water allocation for 2024 significantly undercuts the needs of both agriculture and wildlife refuges. This shortfall threatens not only the basin’s ecological balance but also its economic stability. Farmers face the daunting prospect of insufficient water for crops, leading to potential financial strain and increased tensions among water-right holders.

In response to these challenges, the Klamath Water Users Association has expressed its frustration, particularly highlighting the disconnect between conservation efforts and practical outcomes. Nonetheless, there is a concerted effort among stakeholders, including tribes and government agencies, to engage in constructive dialogue. The goal is to reach a consensus that better serves the basin’s diverse needs, balancing ecological preservation with agricultural sustainability.

Looking Forward

As the Klamath Basin navigates this complex issue, the path forward requires a multifaceted approach. Stakeholders must continue to advocate for policies that reflect the realities of both environmental conservation and agricultural viability. It is only through collaborative efforts and open dialogue that the basin can hope to find a sustainable solution to its water crisis.

The Klamath Basin’s 2024 water crisis underscores the urgent need for comprehensive water management strategies that accommodate the needs of all stakeholders. As the community moves forward, it faces the challenge of reconciling competing interests in a manner that ensures the long-term health of the region’s ecosystems and its agricultural heritage. The resolution of this crisis will set a precedent for addressing similar conflicts in the future, highlighting the importance of cooperation and adaptive management in the face of environmental and legal complexities.

Gene Souza replied: (followed by KWUA newsletter regarding the Bureau’s mismanagement of Klamath irrigators’ stored irrigation water “The language in the Reclamation contracts for the Drought Response Agency is very similar to the conditions that resulted in conflict in 2022. The language in Reclamation’s Interim Operations Plan is unchanged from the conditions that created conflict in 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, and now in 2024. This condition deteriorates from the 2002-2017 era. This condition is not in line with the Klamath Adjudication published in 2013 and the amended final order issued in 2014.

So frankly, yes.

Reclamation does not have the discretion to release stored water for other than irrigation purposes between the months of March through October (they CAN and do have release all live flow…except for the fact that the Klamath Tribes Klamath Adjudication water rights require specified lake levels). So releasing stored water, for live flow, without an irrigation water order between March and October is in violation of the Klamath Adjudication final order. The Oregon Courts stated this should stop; however, the Oregon Supreme Court overturned that decision. The Northern District of California court has said the ESA is more powerful than the Constitutional rights of Americans. This case is still pending appeal in the Ninth Circuit court this summer.

Yes, Reclamation again signaling they intend to deny farmers access to stored water (real property) between the elevation of 4,136 and projected 4,139.5 (USBR datum) in 2024.Yes, Reclamation has indicated it will make $8.5 million or so available for a demand reduction program in 2024. This is approximately $4-6 Million short of being able to pay mortgages, weed control, equipment loans, seed loss, etc given the amount of water Reclamation has stated they intend to release to farmers this year.230,000 acre-feet of water for farmers in 2024 is:

At least 37,000 acre-feet less than what would have naturally evaporated off of Lower Klamath Lake this year…

90,000 acre-feet less than the anticipated 2024 agricultural demand

120,000 acre-feet less than the anticipated 2024 agricultural and refuge demand.

320,000 acre-feet less than the adjudicated water right.

Enough to create conflict between water-right holders.

Enough to sustain conflict between water-right holders and groups without a water rightEnough to sustain my anger, distrust, and frustration with….a list of groups and individuals connected to Bob Anderson.”

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