Monday, January 7, 2008

Klamath Negotiations Update and KlamBlog launches "Understanding Agriculture" feature

This post launches KlamBlog’s UNDERSTANDING AGRICULTURE feature. But first, an update on those Klamath Settlement Negotiations which never seem to end ~

¨ KlamBlog readers will remember that in our last post we explained why a Deal with the Klamath Water Users Association (the group which represents the Klamath River Basin’s Irrigation Elite) is not necessary in order to get the PacifiCorp’s Klamath River dams removed. We now have learned that there is, in fact, not one Settlement Deal being developed but two! The 26 “Settlement Parties” have been spending most of their time on a wide ranging Deal which includes water allocation, power subsidies, county, tribal and irrigator “benefit programs” in addition to “restoration”. Meanwhile the Deal with PacifiCorp to decommission the dams has been on hold! In other words, judging from how they have chosen to spend their time, the 26 “Settlement Parties” appear to not have dam removal as their top priority! The PacifiCorp Deal is consequently way behind schedule. The good news is that some of the “Parties” appear to finally be once again turning attention to the dams and to their owner – PacifiCorp.

¨ Even though they have been working on it for over a year, the second deal – the one that has little if any connection to dam removal – is still not complete. However, that has not stopped those running the Negotiations from pressuring participants to make a commitment to signing on. One of the entities pressing hard is the Bush Administration’s Interior Department. The word is that they want this second Deal as part of the “Bush Legacy”. Hmmm.

¨ In spite of the pressure, none of the environmental and fishing organizations involved have been willing to ink the still incomplete package. Instead on Friday they told irrigators, tribes and agencies that the draft deal must be publicly released so that they can get input from their members and from river communities BEFORE making a decision whether or not to sign on. KlamBlog supports immediate public release. Our message to those controlling the negotiations is this: THE TIME FOR SECRECY IS OVER; LET THE PEOPLE SEE WHAT YOU ARE PROPOSING!

Stay tuned, the Klamath Drama is far from over…..

…. And now, back to launching our new feature ~

For over 30 years KlamBlog’s principle author has been working to figure out what is going on with Agriculture in the
Western US and beyond. This has not been an easy path. That is because those involved in agriculture do not want those who are not involved to understand what is going on. Consequently there are a lot of myths and a lot of misinformation out there. Our advice is to talk to the practitioners – the farmers, ranchers and hired laborers who actually work the fields – but also verify what you are told.

KlamBlog’s UNDERSTANDING AGRICULTURE feature will from time to time use an article from either the trade or the mainstream press to illustrate a point or lessen and thereby (hopefully) help KlamBlog readers understand what is going on in agriculture that impacts the Klamath River Basin. This is the first in that occasional series.


The following article appeared in the December 14th edition of the Capital Press – a West Coast Agriculture weekly newspaper. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, focus on the highlighted paragraph; then see KlamBlog’s commentary below the article.

Capital Press

Irrigators seek more conservation tools
High cost of water, pending drought drive demand

Cecilia Parsons

SAN DIEGO - Making the most of expensive and increasingly scarce water supplies is foremost on the minds of Western growers, irrigation vendors report.

Most of the agriculture-orientated irrigation suppliers at this week's 28th annual International Irrigation Show said conservation, along with environmental concerns, are driving sales.

"They're focused on doing a better job of irrigating," said Craig Stafford of Nelson Irrigation Corp. The Walla Walla, Wash.-based company brought tools for nursery and landscape use as well as for production agriculture.

Growers need to save money on two fronts: reducing the energy to move the water and reducing the amount of water applied to their crops, said
Stafford. Tools that can help them achieve uniform irrigation application and place water where plants can use it are what buyers seek, he said.

How low can application rates go?
Stafford held up a rotating-sprinkler head that applies water at a rate of .04-.06 inches per hour.

"This won't seal the soil and you won't have the run-off or puddling," he said.

Not all irrigation systems will work best on all crops, noted Mark Haile of Weather Tec. He also pointed out that the brass sprinkler heads he was offering were "the last ones made in the USA."

"All the other big outfits are importing from
Taiwan and India," he said. The larger-volume sprinklers are necessary for seed germination, he said. While they have larger water output, they work where drip tape and micro sprinklers will not. He said larger heads also are needed for frost protection. They even help color apples, he said, explaining that Fuji apples don't develop their characteristic red stripes until water hits them. People who use recycled water for animal-feed crops also use heads with higher application rates, Haile said.

Devices that tell growers how much water they are applying are also in demand.

"We can't make them fast enough," said Curt Burnett of Seametrics Inc. of
Kent, Wash. "Growers want accuracy. They need to know what their center pivots are using." Dairies also have environmental requirements for liquid manure applications, he said.

Whichever application method suits the crop, growers still need to determine how much water reaches the roots of the plants and when they need to apply more water, said Chet Townsend of AquaSpy.

Soil moisture-sensing devices are becoming more common in all types of crop production as growers look for ways to reduce total water applications, Townsend said. Using sensors, he said, can allow growers to reduce water consumption by 20 to 70 percent, depending on how they irrigate.

Another input that has steadily risen in price is fertilizer, and Townsend pointed out that since it is frequently applied with water, it might leach below root level, where it is wasted. Growers have used soil probes for many years to check moisture levels, but Townsend said they can now place probes that read moisture levels every several inches.

Using a data logger to track water uptake, growers can see trends and program irrigations to match more closely crop needs. Townsend said that could mean different things for different growing areas. In
California, citrus growers might keep moisture levels higher as a frost protection method. In Florida, he said, growers are paid for juice oranges based on sugar content. Stressing the trees brings up the sugar levels and induces bloom for the next year's crop, he said.

"Vineyard owners are also looking at this technology to track moisture levels so they can stress vines to produce higher sugar levels and put color on the grapes," Townsend said.

The cost of installing systems varies greatly with the number of sensors, the type of information required and the type of crop.

"Everyone is interested in moisture sensors this year. They're looking at using less water, really managing their water use," said Dave Porter of Environmental Sensors, Inc.

Porter demonstrated how temperatures trigger their system to put out water or shut down. In the case of frost protection, he said, an alarm mode can alert growers if temperatures drop below a certain level.

"We've tried to make this a simple system, but with more sophisticated measurements than the tensiometer," said Porter. "This is more reliable, and it measures more than just moisture."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Staff writer Cecilia Parsons is based in Ducor. E-mail


What is being said in this article is that western irrigators can reduce their water use by 20 to 70% if they will simply use existing technology to monitor the actual water needs of their crops.

What is not said in the article is that if western irrigators were to take this simple and affordable step they would not only eliminate most of the conflicts over stream and river flows versus diversion for irrigation but they would also significantly reduce the West’s number one source of water pollution – agriculture return flows.

Check it out; if you are skeptical do some goggle searchers and make some calls. Here’s what you will find:

  • In every major river basin in the West irrigation interests control 80% to 90% of the base flow. In our region “base flow” is the dry season flow – the natural streamflow after snowmelt influence wanes which is generally sometime between late June and mid-August.
  • Every flow study from the western US that KlamBlog has seen, finds that 40% to 60% of baseflow must remain in-stream to sustain healthy fisheries and a healthy river system.
  • Irrigated agriculture could feasibly and without a major impact on crop production reduce its base flow water use sufficiently to allow 50% of base flow to remain is western rivers and streams.

So, if the above three points are true….


The answer is that they – those western irrigators who currently control 80% to 90% of our summer water – are playing a different game. Facing the very real prospect that a fully globalized food market will render their operations uneconomical (even if they succeed in retaining crop and other subsidies), western irrigators are looking for a different way to make money going forward.

They think they have found it ! Their plan is to sit back and lease the water they control to those who desire it.

The prospect of cities, environmental groups and even other farmers vying to lease the water ag irrigation interests now control is the future these irrigators long for. And they are banking that the American Public’s soft spot for agriculture will make it possible for them to pull it off.

There is only one problem that could stymie the West’s once and future Water Barons: Articulated just 500 years after the death of Jesus the Christ by the Roman Emperor Justinian, the Public Trust is a legal doctrine which comes down to us today in the substance of English Common Law as recognized and interpreted by American courts. This key legal doctrine stands in the way of water markets not just in the American West but world wide.

Justinian said:
“By the law of nature these things are common to mankind---the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea.”

This 1500 plus year old doctrine – which no doubt springs from even farther back in the mists of our common heritage – stands in the way of Western Irrigation Interests. One can understand almost everything that is going on in Western Water as an attempt to weaken and eventually abolish the Public Trust.

The attack is not frontal; as the Mono Lake Case demonstrated, that would be too risky. Instead Western Irrigation Interests and their allies (about whom KlamBlog will comment at another time) are working to kill the Public Trust through a thousand, or actually more like ten thousand, small cuts.

A couple of examples will illustrate:

Example #1: If the irrigators in the Scott River Valley succeed in getting California Department of Fish & Game (or some other agency or interest) to lease water from their Water Trust so that fish in the Scott River can survive, the Public Trust will have been diminished. The Public Trust will have been diminished because under that doctrine the irrigators who control the Scott River Water Trust have no right to divert, use, sell or control any water that is needed in the Scott River to support fisheries – a classic Public Trust resource.

Example #2: If the Klamath Water Users Association gets Klamath River tribes, fishermen and enviros (and ultimately Congress) to accept a Water Deal that makes fish dependent on drought plan water that can only be provided by leasing water on an annual basis to augment flows, the Public Trust will have been diminished.

Now, lest you think KlamBlog is alarmist, or even crazy, consider this: Within the last year a long-time representative of commercial fishing interests suggested seriously that the Public Trust is obsolete and therefore that environmental and fishing interests should accept the idea of paying irrigators to leave the water fish need to survive in the Klamath River!

KlamBlog disagrees; not one penny should be spent paying anyone to forgo irrigation or to put water into a stream when by Public Trust Right that water belongs in the stream.

It has been argued that people who allow their basic rights to be taken away without a fight do not deserve those rights anyway….We don’t believe that… you?