The Klamath Irrigation District is backtracking and will halt water deliveries to farmers in Oregon and California

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FILE: The Klamath River Main Gates are seen here Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The main gates control the flow of water stored in Upper Klamath Lake and release it to agricultural users via a network of channels through the Klamath Reclamation Project.

Nathan Howard/AP

The Klamath Irrigation District in southern Oregon has backtracked and now says it has complied with a US government order to stop providing water to farmers in the stricken region by drought.

District managers initially defied the federal government’s order to shut off water to the Klamath Project, but the Klamath Irrigation District has since closed a canal after federal officials threatened to withhold millions of drought relief, Capital Press reported Wednesday.

The United States Bureau of Reclamation manages the Klamath Project, which includes the Klamath Irrigation District and serves 266 square miles of farmland on the Oregon-California border. A limited water allocation has been allowed for irrigators at Upper Klamath Lake this year due to extreme drought.

The office said the project has now run out of water and ordered a closure last week, but district irrigation managers met on Monday and authorized district manager Gene Souza to continue operations , arguing that the US agency had not provided a legal justification.

This prompted a letter from Alan Heck, the office’s acting regional director, warning that unless the irrigation district changes course, it will prevent all land served by the district from receiving $20 million in funding. drought emergency.

Such action would impact the Klamath Irrigation District as well as more than half a dozen other irrigation and other districts.

The Klamath Irrigation District Board at an emergency meeting on Tuesday decided to close the canal.

“(Our council’s) desire to do what’s right for our community has put us on a really tough streak,” Souza said. “There was no good decision”

The Capital Press reported that a spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation could not immediately be reached for comment.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the agency must maintain protection for several species of fish, including shortnose and Lost River suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and coho salmon in the Lower Klamath. the Klamath River.

The federal office initially allocated 15% of the total irrigator demand starting April 15. Officials said if inflows into Upper Klamath Lake exceeded expectations, they would reserve 50% of the additional water for irrigators.

The Klamath Falls area experienced slightly above average rainfall in May and June. As of August 1, the Project’s water supply had increased while maintaining a minimum lake elevation for suckers to access critical habitat.

However, irrigation districts criticized the bureau for sending mixed messages about the amount of water available, making it difficult for farmers to plan.

Brad Kirby, manager of the Tulelake Irrigation District in Tulelake, Calif., said earlier this week the water shutdown could spell disaster for some farmers and said irrigation districts are scrambling to help to save as many crops as possible.

He said irrigators are forced to pump groundwater from wells in the district to keep crops alive during harvest.

“We have to rethink our whole system,” Kirby said.

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