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Federal Government Restores Klamath Basin Irrigation Water Following Protest

Klamath protest truck.jpg
Erik Neumann/JPR
A truck drives through Klamath Falls during a rally for increased irrigation water in the Klamath Basin.

Farmers in the Klamath Basin were notified Tuesday that the amount of water they’ll get for crops and livestock will be increased from the record low amount they thought they were getting. The change came after hundreds rallied in Klamath Falls over concerns of a devastating drought this year.

The announcement came from the Bureau of Reclamation on Tuesday: Klamath Basin irrigators in Oregon and California will get 140,000 acre-feet of water this summer.

While that’s only about 40% of what they get during a normal year, it’s more than what Reclamation water managers said they’d be getting on May 1, as the basin faces a punishing drought this summer.

“This is definitely a relief,” wrote Klamath Water Users Association President Tricia Hill. “The possible reduction we heard about in May has created chaos and more uncertainty in an already-terrible year.”

Farmers and ranchers took to the streets of Klamath Falls in trucks and tractors at the end of May to protest the expected lower allotment. Many say they had already planted their crops for the season.

According to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, water inflow into Upper Klamath Lake improved in the last month.

“Although the project remains at a painful, record low allocation, I am pleased that the recent improvement in lake inflow allows Reclamation to stabilize water supplies for Klamath Project water users this year,” Burman wrote in a statement.

The forecast for an exceptionally low water year is also putting a variety of fish species in the Klamath River at risk, including Chinook salmon and endangered Coho salmon.

An emergency meeting will be held to discuss water to benefit endangered fish on the Klamath River, according to a Bureau of Reclamation statement.

Erik Neumann is the interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.