Basin irrigation officials say idling will save 10,000 acre-feet of water this summer
By JOEL ASCHBRENNER
H&N Staff Reporter
May 31, 2012
A three-pronged plan to mitigate a moderate drought is in place and now Klamath Basin irrigators are just waiting on the weather.
Irrigation officials unveiled a plan this week to save about 10,000 acre-feet of water by paying farmers and ranchers to leave their crops or pastures dry later in the growing season. There also are plans to pump groundwater and store water above Upper Klamath Lake to ensure producers can irrigate late in the summer.
“I think everybody is doing all they can to stay within the law and make this irrigation season work for everybody,” said Ross Flemming, a Klamath Irrigation District board member and Henley-area farmer who grows potatoes, hay, grain and sod.
The severity of the drought could change with the weather, but Bureau of Reclamation officials predicted earlier this month irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project would face a water shortage of about 70,000 acre-feet, roughly one-sixth of their annual demand of about 400,000 acre-feet.
This will be the first year the Klamath Water and Power Agency has offered partial season land idling, said KWAPA executive director Hollie Cannon. Waiting to idle land until late in the season will ensure that those who sign up from the program will be able to produce some crops from their land, he said.
For alfalfa farmers, who cut the perennial forage crop several times throughout the summer, it may mean they get one fewer harvest this summer. For ranchers with irrigated pasture, it may mean they have to feed their herd hay earlier in the season.
“We want as many irrigators receiving water as possible because that’s what creates the economy here,” Cannon said.
The partial-season land idling program will involve at least 8,000 acres, Cannon said. During a more acute drought in 2010, irrigators left more than 43,000 acres dry on the 210,000 acre Project as part of a full-season land-idling program.
In addition to land idling, KWAPA plans to pay irrigators to pump 40,000 acre feet of groundwater. The agency also has contracted with Reclamation to store about 13,000 acre feet of water in diked areas near Agency Lake above Upper Klamath Lake for irrigators to use late in the summer.
“Between those three, we think we will be very close,” to covering the predicted water shortage, Cannon said.