Klamath irrigation shutoffs begin
By JEFF BARNARD
Of the Associated Press
GRANTS PASS — Watermasters started telling ranchers in the drought-stricken upper Klamath Basin on Wednesday they have to shut off their irrigation to satisfy the needs of the Klamath Tribes and a federal irrigation project.
Douglas Woodcock of the Oregon Water Resources Department said watermasters had completed measuring streamflows to verify the need to start shutting off some irrigators, and were beginning to notify ranchers along the Sprague River and its tributaries.
He said it was not yet clear whether all the irrigators drawing from the Sprague have to be shut off. It will take the next week and a half to make all the notifications. Shutoffs on the Wood and Williams rivers are to follow.
The shutoffs are the first for the upper Klamath Basin, where 38 years of litigation ended in March with recognition by the state Water Resources Department that the tribes have the oldest water rights on rivers flowing through lands that were once their reservation, dating to time immemorial. Until now, ranchers have been able to irrigate freely, no matter how much water is in the river.
The tribes issued what is known as a call on the water on Tuesday to be sure enough water remains in rivers to support native fish, including two endangered species of suckers sacred to the tribes.
Ranchers have said the shutoffs will be devastating, forcing them to find feed for more than 70,000 cattle grazed on irrigated pasture. Feed is already in short supply across the drought-stricken west.
The tribe issues its call in concert with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which needs water to supply the Klamath Reclamation Project, a federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border, and the The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has wildlife refuges that draw water from the irrigation project.