Klamath Project A Canal

Water flows from Upper Klamath Lake into the A Canal, part of the Klamath Project.

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — For Klamath Project irrigators, 2021 will be as bleak as it gets.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday it is shutting down the Project’s A Canal for the entire season, meaning farmers and ranchers will receive zero water supplies amid a crippling region-wide drought.

“We have closely monitored the water conditions in the area and the unfortunate deterioration of the forecasted hydrology,” said Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Calimlin Touton. “This has resulted in the historic consequence of not being able to operate a majority of the Klamath Project this year.”

The Bureau of Reclamation announced an initial water allocation of just 33,000 acre-feet for the Klamath Project in April — barely 8% of historical demand.

One month later, conditions have gone from bad to worse. Inflows to Upper Klamath Lake are 85,000 acre-feet below what was reported April 1 following an exceptionally dry month.

The A Canal is the main artery delivering irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake to 130,000 acres of farmland within the Klamath Project. Officials in April predicted the water would not start flowing until May 15 at the earliest.

Instead, the canal will be left dry through the summer, putting hundreds of family farms at risk.

In addition, the bureau announced it would not provide “flushing flows” down the Klamath River to benefit endangered salmon. Flushing flows are intended to wash away a deadly fish-killing parasite known as C. shasta that thrives in low-flowing, warm water.

According to the latest water outlook report issued by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, nearly all reservoirs in the Klamath Basin are storing less than 50% capacity. April precipitation was just 25% for the month, and basin streamflows are expected to run between 8% to 49% through the summer.

Nearly all of Southern Oregon and Northern California are in “severe” to “exceptional” drought.

Paul Simmons, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, struggled to find words when contacted Wednesday morning. He said it is the first time in 114 years of operation the A Canal will deliver no water for an entire year.

“To say that it’s gloomy is a gross understatement,” Simmons said. “It’s a devastating situation. It’s going to be bad.”

Reclamation says it has previously committed $15 million in immediate aid for agricultural producers through the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency, and an additional $3 million in technical assistance will be available to tribes for ecosystem activities in the Klamath Basin.

“Reclamation is dedicated to working with our water users, tribes and partners to get through this difficult year and developing long-term solutions for the basin,” Touton said.

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