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Ranchers in the Upper Basin react
Tribal water call: ‘Devastating’
The call on water by the Klamath Tribes will be devastating economically for the cattlemen in the Upper Basin, affected ranchers said Tuesday.
The Tribes made the call last week. A water call puts the rest of the secondary water users on notice that the Tribes intend to use its water allocation in the Williamson, Sprague and possibly the Wood rivers for the benefit of fish habitat over irrigation for farming and cattle operations.
“This call is potentially devastating to both irrigators and the Tribes,” said Becky Hyde, a member of a long-time cattle ranching family in the Upper Basin above Upper Klamath Lake. “Our ag communities want what is best for the fish as well, but this puts a tremendous strain on our relationship with the Tribes.”
While the call focuses on the current high water flows in the rivers — and if they fall to a certain level, irrigators can actually irrigate — there is still the concern that the irrigation window will be short-lived.
This is the first time the regulations have taken effect with spring runoff, which could run to June 1 or end sooner.
Hyde and several other ranchers spent years hammering out an Upper Basin agreement over water use with the Tribes. That agreement is still on the books, but has no funding behind it, hence is moot. The agreement would retire some 18,000 acres of land from use to put water back into the streams. In turn, there will be water security for ranchers.
Larry Nicholson, whose family also has historic cattle ranches on the Wood River, said the economic impact will be huge. A water call has not been made on the Wood, but Nicholson expects it.
“There are some 30,000 head of cattle that are moved into the area from ranches in California,” Nicholson said. “The grass in the Fort Klamath area is highly nutritious, but it is only good in the summer as it’s too cold to keep cattle there in the winter. Most ranches are not setup for stock water. If there is no water, the cattle will be kept in California, crowding out those ranch resources.”
After that …
“We have yearlings who need to grow all summer on grass,” Hyde said. “It’s a scramble to find alternative grazing. If you multiply that across the region, the water call a big deal,” she said. “We will be OK in the spring thanks to the early moisture and growing grasses. After that, it could be devastating.”
A couple of years back, Hyde shipped some cattle out after water supplies dwindled.
“This will be worse. There will be no water,” Hyde said.
Randall Kiser, who is a fifth-generation rancher on the Sprague and Wood, said, “When you have a snowpack at 138 of average and there is still a call for water, something is wrong.” Kiser, too, worked on the water pact with the tribes. Some 150 large and small ranches on the Sprague will be affected by the call.
“It’s a serious situation,” Kizer said.
“It would be nice if we could negotiate a settlement, finalize it and keep moving” he said. “This call affects everybody in the Upper Basin. When we last met in February, the Tribes told us they were ‘settlement-minded.’”
Tribal Chairman Don Gentry said of the call Monday, “I understand the concerns for the agricultural community, but there needs to be concerns for the status of our fisheries.”
Both Hyde and Nicholson point out that the agreements work both ways. The idea was to have cattlemen build fences to keep cattle out of the rivers so fish habitat could grow.
“If you don’t have fences, it stands to reason the cattle will be drinking from the river,” Nicholson said, damaging habitat and eroding banks.
“Just having water doesn’t restore habitat,” Hyde said. “That’s where everyone loses. The Klamath Tribes have a powerful card that they are playing, but that doesn’t, mean they win in the end.”
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