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Know the West

Klamath farmers stand in the way of progress

  Tim Holt’s column on the Klamath Basin makes some excellent points, but misses two of the keys (HCN, 9/13/04: Failure of leadership, not a lack of water, dooms the Klamath).

Any rational person familiar with the situation understands that demand reduction is key to rebalancing water in the basin. Gross overallocation of water by the federal government and states is at the heart of the problem. As important is new water storage and access to historical spawning habitat for endangered Lost River and shortnosed suckers in and adjacent to Upper Klamath Lake.

However, each time a bipartisan opportunity has arisen to jointly address demand reduction, new storage, and water quality improvement, the Klamath Water Users Association has pulled political strings to kill it. The association has also worked diligently behind the scenes to try to kill the one new water-storage project that has the support of nearly everyone: The 2,800 acre Barnes Ranch, diked and drained decades ago, can be reopened to Upper Klamath Lake. By doing so, historical spawning habitat for endangered species will be made available, and up to 50,000 acre-feet of water can be stored for myriad uses.

Why the resistance to opening Barnes Ranch? Is it because the irrigators have been unsuccessful in securing agreements for all the stored water to go to farmers in the Klamath Project? Is it because they have their own pet storage project that the Bureau of Reclamation has already said is unrealistic and would cost upwards of three-quarters of a billion dollars? Is it because it represents 2,800 fewer acres that will be grazed? Or could it be that the water users association is perfectly happy with a status quo that gives them almost everything they want?

The triad of demand reduction, water-quality improvement, and new storage like Barnes Ranch has always been the answer for the Klamath Basin. The reason why it is not happening is increasingly apparent as well.

Rich McIntyre
Hailey, Idaho