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Irrigation cut off to some Klamath farms

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Irrigation is being cut off to about a third of the farms on a federal irrigation project in the drought-parched upper Klamath Basin of Oregon and California.

A July 31 letter from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to irrigation districts says that the flows into the Klamath Reclamation Project's primary reservoir have been below pre-season forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, forcing a reduction in releases to districts with junior claims on water in order to meet minimum levels for endangered fish.

The letter was signed by bureau Klamath Area Manager Sheryl L. Franklin.

Greg Addington of the Klamath Water Users Association said Tuesday the cutoff means no more water for 50,000 acres of the project.

He says most of those farms produce hay, and losing irrigation will mean they lose up to half their crop for the year.

He says he expects there will be enough water for the remaining farms on the project to finish the season.

Rain and snowfall over the winter was the lowest in 20 years and the third lowest on record, said Addington.

The drought is worse than in 2001, when irrigation was shut off to nearly all of the project to maintain water for endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

The lake is the project's primary reservoir. The river is the lake's natural outflow.

“It's a mess,” Addington said. “Our guys have seen this train wreck coming for a while. We have worked hard with other stakeholders to try to address these issues. We are not there yet. We've got a bill in Congress. That doesn't help us on the ground today.”

The region's perennial water problems prompted development of plans to remove four dams from the Klamath River to help salmon and give farmers greater certainty on irrigation expectations, but they have stalled in Congress, where they have been opposed by House Republicans.

The bureau has already turned down requests from tribes and others to increase flows down the Klamath River to prevent an outbreak of a parasite that attacks salmon in low water conditions.

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