The water crisis on the California-Oregon border went from terrible to catastrophic this week as federal regulators cut off farmers’ irrigation water from a critical reservoir and said they would not send extra water to dying salmon downstream or to half a dozen shelters. which house millions of migratory birds each year.
In what is emerging as the worst water crisis in generations, the U.S. Reclamation Bureau said it will not run water this season on the main canal that feeds most of Klamath’s massive reclamation project, noting the first for 114-year-old irrigation system. The agency announced last month that hundreds of irrigators would receive drastically less water than usual, but the deteriorating drought means the water will instead be completely shut off.
The entire region is in extreme or extreme drought, according to federal monitoring reports, and Oregon̵
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“This year’s drought conditions bring unprecedented difficulties for the communities of the Klamath Basin,” said Land Reclamation Commissioner Kamil Kalimlim Tutton, calling the decision one of “historic consequences”. “Land reclamation is dedicated to working with our water users, tribes and partners to get through this difficult year and develop long-term solutions for the pool.”
The canal, a key component of Klamath’s federal reclamation project, directs Klamath River water from Upper Lake Klamath, north of the Oregon-California border, to more than 130,000 acres (52,600 hectares) where generations of ranchers and farmers grow hay. alfalfa and potatoes and grazing cattle.
Only one irrigation area under the 200,000-acre project (80,940 hectares) will receive water from the Klamath River system this growing season and will have severely limited supplies, a statement from the Klamath Water Consumers Association said. Some other farmers rely on water from different rivers and they will also have limited supply.
“It just can’t get any worse,” said Klamath Irrigation District President Ty Kliewer. “The impact on our family farms and these rural communities will be out of scale.”
At the same time, the agency said it would not release so-called “wash streams” from the same dam on Lake Upper Klamath to boost water levels downstream in the lower Klamath River. The river is key to the survival of koho salmon, which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In better water years, water impulses help keep the river cool and turbulent – conditions that help fragile species. Fish are essential to the diet and culture of the Yurok tribe, the largest federally recognized tribe in California.
This week, the tribe said that low drought flows and previous poor river management by the federal agency are causing young salmon to die from a bacterial disease that thrives when water levels are low. Yurok fish biologists testing baby salmon in the lower Klamath River found that 70% of the fish were already dead in the traps used to collect them, and 97% were infected with bacteria known as C. shasta.
“Currently, the Klamath River is full of dead and dying fish in the Yurok Reserve,” said Frankie Myers, vice president of the Yurok tribe. “This disease will kill most baby salmon in Klamath, which will affect fish currents for many years to come. For people with salmon, killing young fish is absolutely the worst case scenario.”
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Irrigators, meanwhile, reacted with disbelief when news of a water cut in the canals spread. A newsletter published by the Klamath Water Consumers Association, which represents many of the farmers in the region, is titled “The Worst Day in the History of the Klamath Project”. Farmers say they have already seen dust storms obscuring 100 yards (91 meters) and worrying if their wells are drying up.
About 30 protesters appeared outside the main gate of the main dam on Thursday to protest the shutdown and ask the irrigation area to oppose federal orders and divert water. The Herald and News reported that they were with a group called People’s Rights, a far-right organization founded by anti-government activist Amon Bundy.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and California Gov. Gavin Newsum, both Democrats, have declared drought emergencies in the region, and the Bureau of Reclamation has set aside $ 15 million for immediate irrigation assistance. Another $ 10 million will be available for drought relief from the US Department of Agriculture.
Ben Duvall, president of the Klamath Water Consumers Association, called on its members to keep the peace and prevent the water crisis from being “hijacked for other causes”.
Seasonal distributions are the most dramatic development in the region, as irrigation water was nearly cut off for hundreds of farmers in 2001 amid another severe drought – the first time farmers’ interests have shifted to fishing and tribes.
The crisis has turned the rural agricultural region hundreds of miles from every major city into a national political point and has become a touchstone for Republicans who have used the crisis to target the Endangered Species Act, with one MP calling the cessation of irrigation a “child.” on the poster “why changes are needed. The bucket brigade protest drew 15,000 people who drew water from the Klamath River and passed it by hand into a dried-up irrigation canal.
The situation in the Klamath Basin was triggered more than a century ago when the US government began draining a network of shallow lakes and swamps, diverting natural water flow and building hundreds of miles of canals and drainage to create farmland. Properties were offered through a lottery to World War II veterans.
The project turned the region into an agricultural power plant – some potato growers offer an In ‘N Out burger – but forever changed a virtual complex water system that spans hundreds of miles from southern Oregon to northern California.
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In 1988, two species of shoot fish were listed as endangered under federal law. Less than a decade later, the Koho salmon, which is dumped downstream from the reclamation project into the lower Klamath River, has been declared endangered.
The water needed to keep the coho salmon downstream comes from Lake Gorna Klamath, the main reservoir for farmers’ irrigation systems. At the same time, suckling fish in the pond need at least 1 to 2 feet (30 to 60 centimeters) of water to cover the gravel beds, which they use as spawning grounds.
The drought also means that farmers will not dump irrigation water this summer into a network of six national wildlife refuges, collectively known as the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Shelters called Everglades of the West support up to 80% of the birds that migrate on the Pacific flight. The shelters also maintain the highest concentrations of wintering bald eagles in the lower 48 states.