Scott White, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association in Klamath Falls, Ore., announced Monday he will resign from the job following a 2018 irrigation season plagued by drought and uncertainty.
White, 40, joined the KWUA in February 2016. The association represents 1,200 family farms and ranches within the Klamath Project, a federal water management project that encompasses over 170,000 acres in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
“I’ve been blessed to work for these guys the last three years,” White told the Capital Press. “It becomes who you are. It’s an identity that I’m extremely proud of, and it’s not easy to walk away from.”
White’s last day is Friday, Nov. 30. KWUA President Brad Kirby said the board will act promptly to fill the position. Until then, KWUA attorney Paul Simmons will fill in as interim executive director.
Kirby, who also serves as manager of the Tulelake Irrigation District in Tulelake, Calif., said White was “the right person at the right time” to lead the association through a challenging period that included very dry conditions, multiple lawsuits and a court injunction.
“We’re united and stronger than we were when Scott arrived,” Kirby said.
Ultimately, White said the stress took a toll on him and his family.
This year was especially nerve-wracking, as growers had to wait until June before the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued its annual water allotment for the Klamath Project while balancing demands for fish.
On April 30, a federal judge in San Francisco upheld a 2017 injunction that requires the bureau to send more water from Upper Klamath Lake downstream to flush away a deadly salmon-killing parasite, known as C. shasta, in the lower Klamath River.
At the same time, the Klamath Tribes also sued the Bureau of Reclamation, National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking to hold more water in Upper Klamath Lake to protect endangered shortnose and Lost River suckers. The same judge, William Orrick, denied their request for an injunction and transferred the case to U.S. District Court in Oregon.
Meanwhile, drought only compounded fears of water shortages heading into summer, set up by below-average mountain snowpack. White said he felt like there was a crisis on his hands almost every single day.
“There is just this ache of anxiety in your chest around the clock,” he said. “It hit me hard.”
But it wasn’t all bad news in 2018. As difficult as it was, White said they did make it through the season and came out the other side with up to $10 million in emergency relief for future drought years — a provision written into the America’s Water and Infrastructure Act of 2018, which was signed by President Donald Trump on Oct. 23.
White said the new KWUA executive director will be responsible for ensuring those dollars are appropriated, possibly as early as next year given forecasts for a warmer and drier winter across the Pacific Northwest due to El Nino.
As for himself, White said he plans to take December off, taking time to decompress and recharge his batteries.
“These guys mean a lot to me, and I am sincerely hopeful there is a secure and prosperous future for all of them,” White said.