Klamath Basin Copycat Case Pits Fish vs. Farmers


Jun 10, 2002
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Klamath Basin Copycat Case Pits Fish vs. Farmers

Tuesday, July 09, 2002


RENO, Nev. ? Nevada farmers are finding themselves caught in an increasingly familiar battle that pits their survival against that of some favored fish.

Farmers in the Fallon area northeast of Carson City have been able to keep crops alive by siphoning off water from the Truckee River, which is fed by the Stampede Reservoir.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe claim the farmers are taking too much water from the Truckee, forcing the reservoir to refill the river and diverting water intended for the Pyramid Lake, where the endangered cui-ui suckerfish live.

Stampede, which is a 120,400 acre-feet of water reservoir, is at 53 percent capacity, its lowest level since 1994.

The standoff is reminiscent of last summer's situation in Klamath Basin, Ore., when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shut off the irrigation headgates to farmers fighting total drought devastation on 220,000 acres of farmland. Officials said that the water was needed to protect the endangered suckerfish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

But this time, representatives of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation say they are trying to create a proper ratio of water for the two rivers during the drought, and have tried a new system in which they release the water in stages, keeping some in storage while sending the rest out to help farmers downstream of the Truckee River and to help spawning of the endangered cui-ui suckerfish and Lahonton cutthroat trout.

Opponents of the new system say it has given the farmers too much water. Tribal and Fish and Wildlife officials have complained that the farmers took 12,000 acre-feet more than they needed, and that farmers should be pulling their water from the Lahontan Reservoir on the Carson River, which is also way below normal levels.

Lisa Heki, fisheries complex manager for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, added that with less than the expected rainfall this year, Stampede has less water in storage than expected.

But farmers and local officials say that while water is low, the complaints are overblown.

Less water than normal was released from Stampede in April and May for the cui-ui, but a spawning run of about 40,000 fish was still possible, officials said. They added that farmers have every right to pull water into the Truckee Canal from the Truckee River when necessary.

The case is expected to continue to get nastier as the dry weather continues in the west, but the farmers so far have not lost crops the way Klamath Basin farmers did. The federal government provided $20 million to the farmers who lost last year's crops. President Bush also formed a Cabinet-level advisory group to figure out how to balance water needs in the area.
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