Sunday, October 6, 2013

Greed trumps science - TID's plan to mine groundwater in the Klamath River Basin

Adoption of a Groundwater Management Plan by the Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) this past April has not been reported in the press...but it should have been. The Plan covers the California portion of the Lower Lost River Basin within the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Project. In spite of evidence that the deep groundwater aquifer is being depleted, the Tulelake Irrigation District's plan is to
          "enable the District, individual landowners, and their regional neighbors to continue use of local groundwater as a supplemental water supply during years of surface water shortages."

Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) is controlled by fewer than 10 growers who, by virtual of their wealth and political power, dominate both the District and the Klamath Water Users Association. These growers have been successful for over a decade in preventing their "neighbors" from selling legal and contractual rights to Klamath River water so that the rights can be retired and demand for water diverted from the Klamath River can be brought into line with demand for that water.

One reason TID's dominant growers oppose retiring water rights and contracts is the money the District has pocketed in recent years selling groundwater. TID uses deep wells and pumps provided by California at taxpayer expense during a drought emergency to sell water to "neighbors" and to the Bureau of Reclamation.

One of nine deep wells and pumps gifted to Tulelake  
Irrigation District in 2001 by the State of California 

Reclamation buys well water from TID when demand for irrigation water exceeds the supply available from the Klamath River. Purchasing and retiring water rights and contracts within Reclamation's Klamath Irrigation Project would mean Reclamation would not have to buy groundwater from TID. As is usually the case in the Klamath River Basin, understanding how the money flows is key to understanding Klamath water issues.

Tulelake Irrigation District's Plan for Groundwater

TID's Groundwater Management Plan acknowledges that groundwater extraction since 2002 has lowered the deep aquifer and attributes the decline to below average precipitation. The Plan does not, however, use the model developed by the US Geological Survey for predicting the impact of groundwater extraction rates on future groundwater supplies. Instead TID's plan calls for continuing to use groundwater to meet any deficit in surface water supplied by Reclamation over irrigation water demand.

Located in the bed of the former Tule Lake, the Tulelake Irrigation District  
includes the highest value agricultural soils within the Klamath Project including 
18,000 acres of controversial, commercially farmed national wildlife refuge lands   

Since 2002, groundwater pumping and government payments in exchange for not irrigating have occurred whenever surface water supply from the Klamath River has not been sufficient to meet full Klamath Project irrigation demand. In other words, and in contrast to private irrigators, salmon, wildlife refuges and all others who depend on Klamath River water, federal irrigators have been made whole one way or another when there has been a shortage of Klamath River irrigation water. 

A know nothing plan