Last time I checked in we were in the middle of probably one of the worst storms Oregon has seen since the Columbus Day Story in 1962. I wasn’t around to experience that one, but after chatting with some folks who were, the thoughts are similar; 2021 has been worse. And when talking to lineman storm crews they say the same, “This has been some of the worst damage we have ever seen.”
That being said, we are all grateful to so many who turned on our power, who offered to help when we needed it, and also grateful to see the storm become a part of the past to talk about. But now the real work begins; time to clean up.
We finally got out and assessed the damage around our farm. We have a lot of clean up on the borders of our fields where trees and branches lay on top of our crops. That will take some time. Our first priority however was to get into our orchards and see how they fared. We didn’t get hit as hard as other farmers. Some have talked about tree losses upwards of 20% even as high as 50%. This is devastating to hear. We are not that bad in our orchards thank goodness.
In assessing the damage we have found that just about each tree has to be treated differently. Some we have cut down to the trunk and will loose some years of production, but will keep the tree in the ground.
Others we just had to trim up some branches. A few we cut the branch that split the tree and if it didn’t cut into the main truck too badly we kept for a year’s worth of production before we decide if we are going to take it out later.
And some just didn’t make it and got cut right then and there. Many of those we will replant this spring to get them up and going.
Driving around to each broken and ice pruned tree was a pretty depressing job. These are trees that we have taken care of for years. Some just started to produce a crop for us, and now we had to cut them down and set them back another 4 years. The cost of this event will be felt for a long time in the form of a huge labor bill to do clean up, lost production, and now caring for newly planted trees among our established orchards.
Many of these orchards had been gone through already this winter and been pruned, so the double amount of work to go back in prune, stack and push brush for the second time will take a lot of time and money. We try to be very efficient on our farm, and Mother Nature basically made sure that this year would not look like that on our orchard budgets.
Right now I’m just happy that we have power, the sun has been out for a few days, and we are moving along with clean up. The orchards are looking less tattered by the day, and it will be a good day when the “Ice Storm of 2021” is in our hindsight completely. Hope everyone is staying safe out there, and hopefully not far from getting their power turned back on soon!
Yesterday I had a guest post from Ty Kliewer. Ty is a farmer and rancher from the Klamath Basin here in Oregon and he, along with many other farmers in that area are fighting for their livelihoods, for their way of life, for their farms and ranches. You can read all about the background on this issue from his perspective here, “Water is for Fighting, Part 1, Background“.
But there is more of the story. Here is what is happening right now as they continue in their growing season and some of the very real consequences that could come from decisions that are made. You’re going to see that it’s not just about one farm or one ranch, it’s about an entire community and ecosystem. Here is another piece of Ty’s story from the Klamath Basin.
This Year will be Worse than 2001 This year’s situation is cataclysmically worse than 2001. That year, we learned on April 9 we were told there would be no water from Upper Klamath Lake before the irrigation season started. We did not spend any money planting and preparing to harvest that fall. This year, we have just enough water to create sharp division within our community, as there will be a handful of “haves”, and a vast majority of “have nots”.
We typically need about 350,000 acre feet to fully serve the needs of Klamath Project irrigators. . We are given an April 1 allocation each year that is supposed to be the bare minimum supply. Our number this year was 140,000 acre feet, or 40 percent of what we need. In every preceding year, this allocation has been a worst-case scenario and fortunately, improved as time and hydrology played out.
We are farmers, and figuring out how to do what we can with what we have and hopefully survive is how we roll. Following the April 1 allocation announcement, conservative plans were made so we could do the most good with a very limited resource. Planting, staffing, fertilizing, etc. ensued. Then, on May 9 we learned that our allocation had suddenly been reduced to approximately 80,000 acre-feet, or 23% of what we need, and that 25,000 acre-feet had already been used. This means, from my best guess, our district is going to be out of water in the very near future, likely in the coming days or weeks. We have millions of dollars in the ground, and unless it rains a lot, most of our crops will never germinate, much less make a harvestable crop.
Losses don’t stop at the farm. No crops mean no need for labor, processing and packaging, which deeply impacts our strong and sizeable Hispanic community. Virtually no water means no need for parts, tractors and irrigation supplies. Farmers and their employees buy inputs, clothes, food, and many other things that are the basis of the basin economy. When farmland dries out, so do all these businesses. If the critical mass of our local agricultural industry is broken and our input providers are forced out of business, our community is doomed.
The Unraveling My biggest fear is the “unraveling” that will almost certainly occur to our community, starting very soon. When I graduated from Oregon State University in 2001, I knew returning home was going to mean a far more difficult path than if I would have followed several other opportunities that I had.
All it takes for evil to prevail is for good to do nothing. Stepping back and looking at things from the outside, it would appear that Upper Klamath Lake rights now belongs to the downriver tribes in California, in a stark contrast to both Reclamation’s core purpose and Oregon state water law. This, despite Section 8 of the Reclamation Act, which states that Reclamation must comply with, and is also in conflict with Reclamation’s core concept of creating communities and food production in the West.
I am fearful for what the future holds. Our “B” districts, which comprise about a third of the Klamath Project, are going to come to the realization that under the status quo, they will go without water two-thirds of the time. One district in particular, Shasta View – established in large part by the descendants of the aforementioned Czech immigrants- pay their power and assessment on the same bill. They have approximately $150 per acre in liability on land that two thirds of the time will receive no water. At some point, they will come to the realization that what they have worked for generations to accomplish really has a negative value. I repeat negative value. They will then realize they are trapped, and their families’ efforts of the last 100 years have proven worthless. At that point, their district will logically figure out how to dissolve, and then their Reclamation operation and maintenance costs will be heaped on the surviving districts, which also face grave water uncertainty. I fear this will ultimately lead to the collapse of those districts, as well. We estimate that the current market value of the farmland in the Klamath Project alone (without considering improvements) is approximately 1 billion dollars. This is the property tax base that helps pay for our schools, our law enforcement, and our roads. It generates a large portion of the revenue that feeds the business community of the Klamath Basin. If all this withers and turns to dust in the next couple years, where does that leave the tens of thousands of others in our community as current reality becomes the status quo? When 200,000 acres of formerly irrigated lake bottom becomes a dust bowl on every breezy day, who in their right mind would want to live here anyway?
Wildlife will also Suffer The Klamath Basin is also home to many more wildlife species than suckers and salmon, who often get most of the publicity. In 2001, we turned our cows out on our dry hay fields, which are usually our revenue generators, to try and hang on to what we had. We had to haul water to the cows every couple days. I had many opportunities that year to see mule deer, which are normally exceedingly adverse to human interaction. We had a very skinny doe and her two little fawns that moved in with our cows. When we watered them, she would charge to the trough right along with the cows, not in the least bit worried that she was coming face to face with a human. The ponds and canals she and hundreds of other wildlife species had depended on were dry, and she didn’t have another water source for miles. One of the most chilling things I have ever experienced was a common occurrence that spring: a silent late night with no croaking frogs, since the ditches were dry and they had all died.
The Klamath Basin landscape changed drastically in 2001, but the migratory waterfowl did not get the memo. This year will be no different. Thousands of ducks, plovers, and many other species will again arrive to build nests and lay eggs this year, only to face the same detrimental fate as the farmers of the Basin.
What makes things worse, only adding to my anguish 20 years later, is that the federal government continues to keep Upper Klamath Lake at unnaturally high levels. I believe this has occurred now for 28 years. For the past 20 years, unnaturally high amounts of stored Upper Klamath Lake water have been sent downstream to flow to the Pacific Ocean. We have yet to see conclusive scientific findings that demonstrate this is actually helping fish. So, the myth that this is helping salmon persists.
If either of these actions had helped the species, I could kind of understand the wake of devastation they have left on my community and ecological system I deeply and fervently love. However, that’s not the case. Both the suckers and salmon are far worse off than they were 20 years ago. I will let you arrive at your own conclusions as to how this makes us feel.
Tomorrow will be the final blog on this Klamath Basin water issue. “Water if for Fighting, Part 3, The Ask”
I will say again that any support you could show would be greatly appreciated. Like their Facebook page, Shut Down & Fed Up and plan to attend the rally being held May 29th!
I have heard time and time again the old saying, Whiskey is for drinking, Water is for fighting. It’s a saying that before I was farming full time I had a hard time truly grasping the enormity of the power of one simple component. Water. For me personally on our farm we don’t fight over water very often. Mostly it’s in the form of over-regulation and so far, in this area, we have had success in fighting to keep what is “ours”, and while that fight is ongoing, the level at which it’s being taken just a few hours from here is overwhelming. In the Klamath Basin here in Oregon the story of protecting water for agriculture has been long fought, with difficulty kept, and is slowly being taken away.
This is a huge issue, one with a long history and I’m in no way versed enough to carry the weight of this topic. So I decided to ask another farmer if I could share an essay that he wrote that encompasses his story. This was an essay written to David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Department of Interior. Below is Ty’s letter and in the next three blog posts you will be able to also read his essay that was attached.
Ty Kliewer is a 2nd generation farmer and rancher in the Klamath Basin here in Oregon. The story is his alone, but as he says in his essay, “Although the story here is mine, there are thousands of them like this around the basin.”
About Ty: I am the president of the Klamath Irrigation District board of directors and a family farmer in the Klamath Basin. Although the story here is mine, there are thousands of them like this around the basin.
My newlywed parents once had two car payments and two jobs to their name, but they wanted to be farmers. When I was growing up, we didn’t have much, but with many years of diligence and struggle – between my parents, my brother and his wife, and me and my wife – we now farm approximately 1,500 acres in the Klamath Irrigation Project. We also run about 200 head of cattle. My wife and I raise purebred beef cattle with the goal of perpetually creating better genetics that will produce more high quality protein with fewer inputs each generation.
We grow both organic and conventional alfalfa hay and small grains that we have marketed from Fresno California clear north to Seattle, and many points in between. We have sold cattle to buyers in 20 different states. When you’re from southern Oregon, it’s a strange sensation to have your pride and joy living in places like Indiana and Kentucky!
A great part of our herd descends from my first heifer I purchased in 1993 as a ninth grader. Now, I have my own 13-year old boy who thinks about nothing but farming, and an animal- loving 11-year old daughter. They are poised to be the next generation of American food producers, and that gives me a full heart and deep sense of accomplishment.
Again, this is my story and there are thousands of others, and trust me, many are far more compelling. Many farmers in the basin are or are descendants of World War I and World War II veterans who won homesteads in the basin, or are descendants of Czechoslovakian immigrants who fled wartime unrest in Europe to find security and prosperity in the Klamath Reclamation Project.
The Importance of the Klamath Reclamation Project The core purpose of the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) when it starting building water projects at the beginning of the last century was to bring people to these places in the West to build communities and feed America. Although it has not always been fun or easy, my family and my neighbors have labored, persevered and upheld our end of that bargain. I am sad to say, after generations of effort, today we feel betrayed. Agriculture is the beating economic heart of the Klamath Basin, and although we are admittedly a speck on the map, the scope of what is produced here spreads far and wide. If you have eaten potato chips on the west coast, or In N Out Burger fries, you have probably ate a Klamath potato. If you have had a pizza or a glass of milk on the west coast, you have probably at some point consumed protein that originated in alfalfa fields of the Klamath Basin. A tremendous amount of malting barley used in the west coast’s fabled microbreweries is grown here in the basin. Agriculture, mining, petroleum and timber are the true generators of new wealth. Should our particular wealth generator be shut down, the many new businesses that have opened over the last decade in a recovering Klamath Basin will fail, along with our long term institutions.
Unique Nature of the Klamath Irrigation Project The Klamath Project is unique in terms of it is a single use project. Upper Klamath Lake Reservoir was developed with a single purpose- to store and deliver water for agricultural purposes. The right to store that water belongs to Reclamation. However, the right to use that water belongs to the secondary water right holders, the irrigators of the project. In recent decades, the Department of Interior (Interior) appears to have decided to assume tribal trust obligations by divvying up the stored water of Upper Klamath Lake. We are all now caught in a convoluted web which has heaped the costs of those obligations on the backs of the Klamath Basin’s farmers, who innocently answered the call to build this community and help feed our nation. In 2014, the Oregon Amended and Corrected Findings of Fact and Order of Determination reaffirmed that project irrigators hold the primary rights to the waters stored in the reservoir. The Bureau of Indian Affairs should have applied for a right for downriver tribes but failed to do so. Instead of purchasing rights for downriver use, as Reclamation does in many other cases, they instead have just ripped them from their rightful holders with no compensation. The web we find ourselves in today has entangled lots of people who are very confused, scared, and now, very angry.
Tomorrow I will post the second piece of the story, Water is for Fighting, Part 2, What’s Happening Now.
Also I want folks to be aware that there is a tractor rally happening around this very issue coming up May 29th. See the flyer below for more information. Also check out their Facebook page, Shut Down & Fed Up for more updates as the event draws closer.