The Klamath Project provides water for thousands of acres of farmland along the Oregon-California border.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation announced on Thursday that it has allocated 215,000 acre-feet of water from Upper Klamath Lake to be used for farms and ranches in the area this year.
Moss Driscoll, director of water policy at the Klamath Water Users Association, an agricultural lobbying group, said this is a much bigger allotment than they’ve received in recent drought years, but it’s still not enough.
“This is only half our historical demand. So this is a significant reduction in water availability for the Klamath Project compared to quote unquote normal operations,” he said.
Last year’s allocation was less than a quarter of this year’s, due to several years of severe drought.
Without enough water to meet demand, farmers in the region are facing difficult decisions, Driscoll said.
“There’s a great deal of uncertainty. I was just on the phone with a farmer who, he’s going to have to wait for further information before he can decide what his plans are for this year,” he said. “Frankly, we never thought we’d be in a position where we’d have so much snow and rain in the Klamath Basin and have such a paltry irrigation supply.”
The local Klamath Tribes are concerned about the endangered Lost River and shortnose sucker fish, which are culturally significant and live in Upper Klamath Lake.
Clayton Dumont, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the impacts that this year’s allocation will have on the suckers.
“At this point, we’ve really been bailed out by having a really good year for precipitation,” he said.
He counts this year’s allocation as a “bailout” but predicts future years to offer much lower allocations, like in previous drought years.
“I think what they have experienced in more recent years is closer to, you know, the norm going forward than this,” he said.
Reclamation has also allocated 35,000 acre-feet of water each from Gerber Reservoir and Clear Lake Reservoir and committed $13 million to support drought resiliency programs and ecosystem enhancement projects in the region.
“The 2023 Klamath Project allocations are developed based on existing environmental conditions and projected reservoir inflow forecasts from the California Nevada River Forecast Center (CNRFC),” according to Mary Lee Knecht, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Reclamation California-Great Basin. “Data from the CNRFC is being utilized as it provides data on a daily and monthly basis allowing Reclamation to more accurately project what water supply will be available for Klamath Project contractors. Klamath Project allocations may be adjusted, depending on experienced inflows in subsequent months.”