Klamath Basin Watermaster Scott White calls it the worst part of his job. “By far,” he says.
This past week, White notified 213 users to stop drawing water for irrigation. The move came after senior water rights holders — those with rights authorized before 1905, in this case — issued a “call” for water because they have not been able to draw the full amount due them. Under Oregon water law, junior water rights are shut off until the senior users get the water to which they are entitled.
Regulation notices have been mailed to farms, businesses and other entities that hold junior water rights in the drought-stricken area near Klamath Falls. White said most of the impacted holders use water to irrigate pasture, while some grow hay crops. The orders primarily affected surface water users, but included about a dozen wells that have been shown to interfere with surface water supplies, White said.
Some of the junior water rights holders who were shut off also have rights that pre-date 1905, and can continue to draw water under those authorizations, White said.
The Oregon Water Resources Department said the water rights call came from the Malin, Shasta View, Tulelake and Sunnyside irrigation districts, from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Klamath Basin and Poe Valley improvement districts, Van Brimmer Ditch Co., and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which draws water for the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake wildlife refuges. The irrigation districts and other users issued a call on behalf of patrons.
The most senior water rights holder, the Klamath Tribes, have not yet issued a call for water, White said. The tribes, which include the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin, have water rights dating to “the beginning of time,” he said.
White said it’s possible water rights will be restored later in the season if inflow into the Klamath Project exceeds demand.
Junior rights holders can appeal the department’s order to a circuit court. A similar shutoff happened in 2013 when the tribes issued a water call.