Southern Oregon irrigation districts mull rationing

The Associated Press
Published Mar 16, 2012 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

KLAMATH FALLS — A water shortage in Southern Oregon has farmers worried they’ll be deprived of irrigation water by the Klamath Reclamation Project.

Water will be rationed to those in the Klamath and Tulelake irrigation districts, as well as the Van Brimmer Ditch Co., the Herald and News of Klamath Falls reported.

Only one-third of the Klamath Reclamation Project will receive surface water for irrigation this year.

Users with newer contracts, the so-called B users, are unlikely to receive surface water unless precipitation increases drastically.

“If precipitation does not increase significantly over the next few months, significant water shortages are likely during the upcoming 2012 irrigation season,” Bureau of Reclamation area manager Jason Phillips said in a letter to irrigators.

The bureau will have a better idea of how much water will be available in early April, bureau spokesman Kevin Moore said. That’s when it plans to release its 2012 operations plan for the Klamath Project.

The federal irrigation project regularly runs into problems due to the basin’s scarce water, which must be shared between farms and endangered fish.

To mitigate the expected water shortage, the agency has developed groundwater pumping — which pays irrigators to pump well water — and land idling programs, which allows them to give up their water allocation for the year.

Nearly 150 irrigators applied to pump well water.

“It’s our goal to get every acre wet that producers want to irrigate,” said Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Agency.

Many hope heavy spring precipitation will improve the water forecast and make more water available for irrigation. That’s what happened in 2010, another drought year when B users were told they would not receive water. Heavy rains in May and June of that year provided additional water for irrigators.