Klamath Basin irrigators got a little help last week from Congress — $10 million tucked into a $6 billion bill to improve the nation’s ports, dams, harbors and other infrastructure.
It won’t correct the problems facing the basin, but it’s a start.
The Klamath Project provides water to 200,000 acres in the basin. The federal government began building the system in 1906. It is a massive feat of engineering consisting of six dams, 185 miles of canals and 490 miles of lateral ditches. It spans roughly 200,000 acres of farmland, including 18 irrigation districts.
After World War I the government used the project to lure veterans to begin farming in the basin. Agriculture boomed.
But over the last century, the demand for water has increased while the supply of water has not. Snowpacks have become less reliable. The Endangered Species Act requires more and more water be dedicated to support endangered salmon in the basin’s rivers and suckers in Klamath Lake.
Farmers have come up short.
The provisions of “America’s Water and Infrastructure Act of 2018” won’t relieve farmers from the impacts of the ESA, but it will provide money that can be used to make the system more efficient, such as building more storage and lining canals to prevent water loss. It can also be used to pump more groundwater.
Provisions in the act will make it easier for irrigators to convey that groundwater — and any other water obtained from non-project sources — through the system. That could prove a lifesaver when surface water runs short.
Another provision requires the Bureau of Reclamation to come up with a plan to reduce electricity costs in the basin.
Affordable power is tied directly to project efficiency. The more electricity costs, the less farmers may use technology designed to conserve water, such as center pivots versus flood irrigation.
We’ve long said that the federal government, which lured farmers to the basin with the promise of cheap land and plentiful water, should be obligated to do whatever it can to help preserve the farmers and ranchers now endangered in no small part by the impacts of environmental policy instituted by that government.
As we said, this is a start. The farmers of the basin look forward to more.