Dying from Drought: federal restrictions, farmer concerns, lawmaker solutions

The Klamath River Basin runs from southern Oregon into northern California and is under severe to extreme drought. According to our own meteorologist, Tim Ross, both the eight to ten-day forecast and the 30-day outlook keep the entire western U.S. in drought mode.

House lawmakers are looking for solutions and farmers are voicing their concerns as the western drought threatens ag communities.

Irrigated farms in the federal Klamath Water Project are facing the worst year in the project’s 116-year history. Dan Keppen, the executive director for the Family Farm Alliance, says that regulatory burdens only worsen the situation.

“This year, close to a million acre-feet of water will be available for suckers and salmon protected by the ESA,” Keppen states. “For the first time since its construction in 1907, there will be zero water available from the A canal for irrigation or wildlife refuge purposes.”

Although, it’s not just the Klamath Project facing restrictions. Keppen says that other areas also face rigid ESA regulations that often stem from court decisions.

“Examples of that would include the Central Valley Project in California, where water that once served agriculture is now kept in reserve behind Shasta Dam for temperature requirements intended to protect salmon in the Sacramento River. Outflows are controlled by flows intended to benefit Delta snow down in the San Joaquin Valley in California,” he adds.

He says this single-species approach is not fair for farmers: “For long-term stability, a basin-wide settlement agreement is needed that addresses water management for irrigation and fish and provides a fair and legal solution for Klamath irrigators and their families. It can be done, it’s been done elsewhere.”

He referenced a previous attempt to find a solution under the Obama administration and says that it is time to try again.

“Multiple stakeholders were involved and they ultimately created a long-term fix that, I think, would have helped fish and farmers up and down the river, he notes. “Unfortunately, Congress didn’t approve that by the end of 2015, so we are back to where we were 20 years ago, fighting it out in court.”

Last month, the White House formed a drought relief working group to work on identifying financial and technical assistance for western irrigators, as well as longer-term solutions that could address regulatory reform.


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Thousands of western farmers have had their water cut by 95%