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Environment, Energy and Transportation

Some Klamath Basin Families Lose Running Water As Wells Run Dry

An OPB file photo of the drought-parched Klamath Basin of Oregon and California.
OPB
/
An OPB file photo of the drought-parched Klamath Basin of Oregon and California.

More than 90 families in the Klamath Basin say their domestic water wells have run dry.

Many homes in rural parts of the basin rely on their wells for running water. The Oregon Office of Emergency Management and local agencies are scrambling to get water storage tanks to those properties so they could have running water again.

About 360 water tanks are headed to the basin. Klamath County Public Health is providing free water deliveries once a week to fill the tanks.

Health officials warn that the tanks will only hold non-potable water, so families will still need to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking. In a press release, the county health department says it’ll soon provide a water filling station where people can fill their own containers with up to 20 gallons of water a day for free.

“The continuation of this service will be dependent on resources and is a temporary emergency solution to provide time for the well owner to seek out a permanent water supply solution,” reads the press release.

Ben DuVal with the Klamath Water Users Association says some people could drill their wells deeper to reach more water, but because drought is so widespread this year, demand for that service is high.

“There’s just a huge shortage of well-drilling companies and people to even come service pumps right now,” DuVal says. “Nobody is going to come in from outside the area to pick up the slack because a lot of areas are dealing with the same issue.”

The extreme drought in the Klamath Basin has had devastating impacts on the area, including fueling what’s now the largest wildfire in the nation. Some residents are questioning the region’s livability.

“When you don’t have basic things like water, and your parks are dead, and your kids are going to play on dry athletic fields this fall, how badly do you even want to be here?” says Ty Kliewer president of the Klamath Irrigation District.

There are a few factors causing people’s wells to run dry, including the increasing frequency and intensity of drought.

“We’ve had multiple dry years down there out of the last 10 to 15 years, and those impacts build up over time,” says Ivan Gall with the Oregon Water Resources Department.

Gall says every time there’s a dry year, the aquifer ends up storing less groundwater. Another contributing factor: there isn’t any water running through the ditches and canals this year, which sometimes feeds water into people’s domestic wells. Earlier this year the Bureau of Reclamation announced that it wouldn’t release water into a major canal for irrigators because doing so would cause further harm to two endangered fish species.

Finally, more irrigators than ever are having to pump groundwater because they didn’t get enough surface water. During governor-declared drought emergencies, irrigators that only have surface water rights can request a permit for pumping groundwater.

“We’ve issued probably 45 to 50 emergency drought permits for groundwater pumpage in and around the project area there,” Gall says. “That cumulative total of groundwater being pumped probably exceeds anything that we’ve seen before in that basin.”