OSU Study Details Devastating Effects Of Water Shortages On Klamath Basin Economy

KLAMATH COUNTY, Ore. — Seeking a sustainable balance among the competing demands for the Klamath Basin’s water, a recent Oregon State University (OSU) study sets out the detrimental economic effects that water shortages had on farms and ranches in the area.

Partially funded by Klamath County, the OSU Water Allocation in the Klamath Reclamation Project Study found that livestock and crops from the area are worth about $368 million annually. In addition, $176 million earned in income is paid to over 3,000 employees, making the water supply in the basin an important asset.


Water Restrictions In Klamath Basin

Federal restrictions on the water supply available from Upper Klamath Lake are driven by the directives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Maine Fisheries Services and stem from USBR’s interpretation of the Endangered Species Act. The Klamath Project covers about  230,000 acres across Klamath, Siskiyou, and Modoc counties, and includes farmed lands within two national wildlife refuges.

See also: Klamath Basin Agricultural Water Supply Allocations Issued By Federal Agency


Crops grown in the region include grain, strawberries, alfalfa, potatoes, onions, and peppermint. While a full water supply from Upper Klamath Lake for the Klamath Project is about 450,000 acre-feet, the USBR currently limits diversions to a maximum of 350,000 acre-feet no matter how much water may be physically available at any time. According to the researchers, should the USBR only make 225,000 acre-feet of water available from Upper Klamath Lake, 650 jobs will be lost and income reduced by about $34 million.


Losses from Water Shortages in Klamath Basin

A Tri-counties press release from Siskiyou, Modoc, and Klamath Counties referred to the recent  OSU study, highlighting the devastating economic effects of water shortages for farms and ranches in the Upper Klamath Basin. The agricultural economic activity in the region is directly threatened as limitations on ranchers’ and farmers’ ability to water their crops and livestock increase.

According to the researchers, around $12 million in labor income and 210 jobs that paid over $25 million to workers in income annually were lost as a result of the decline in livestock production arising from water restrictions.

A further at least $12 million in labor income and 120 jobs are also currently at risk as the maximum amount of water the USBR allows farmers to use has reduced. This resulted in recent water restrictions on the Williamson, Wood, and Sprague rivers.

California is currently grappling with the highest unemployment rates in the nation and the decrease in water supply will only make the crisis worse, stripping away jobs. The sector is a vital lifeline for many families and faces severe disruptions, which will lead to further economic distress. However, the effects extend beyond individuals’ income and employment.

The OSU study indicates that reduced water supplies to farmers and ranchers have already led to a decrease of over $1 million in Klamath County’s property tax revenues. Similar declines in sales and use taxes for Siskiyou and Modoc counties are also expected to occur.

Leaders from the Tri-Counties urged federal agencies to take action immediately and to provide a full water supply to the region for the 2024 water year as well as sufficient irrigation supplies into the future. The researchers said that there is an urgent need for policies that balance the environmental concerns in the Klamath Basin with the economic realities of those who depend on the Basin for their livelihoods.

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