Idaho farmers this time of year are thinking a lot about water and wondering if there will be enough for their crops and livestock. A wet spring has boosted snow packs and hopes throughout the region. But in Southern Oregon’s Klamath Basin, farmers are a bit worried. That's because local officials have declared a drought in Klamath County.
Rob Unruh’s farmhouse is just about a mile from the border with California. This winter, he planted wheat in the field in front of his house, to hold the soil in place. Skinny green stalks, almost invisible, poke up out of the ground.
“I mean it’s still here, but it’s pretty sick.” he says.
The problem: not enough rain this winter. The main crop Unruh grows is potatoes. If you’ve ever bought a bag of basin gold potatoes at Costco, those might be his. But Unruh says he hasn’t bought potato seed yet this spring. He’s been putting it off, because he wasn’t sure he’d have irrigation water.
“You know" he says, " a three day shut off of water can be devastating to potatoes. It just takes your crop away.”
Unruh gets most of his water from irrigation ditches. And those ditches are filled with water from Klamath Lake. Several species of endangered fish live in the lake and spawn downstream. So every year, federal irrigation officials have to try to balance the water diverted to farms with the water that fish need. That means Unruh has to wait until spring to find out how much water he’ll get.
“You can’t explain the stress levels." he says.
For the last two weeks, it’s snowed heavily in the mountains. The snow pack is at 90% of normal, and that’s good for farmers and fish. Federal water managers have promised to start flooding the canals on the first of April, though they may have to turn the water off later.
Unruh can feel the difference in the field in front of his house.
“Three weeks ago, this was bone dry." He says, "Now it’s got some moisture. “
Klamath county commissioners have asked Governor John Kitzhaber for a state drought declaration. But they say it’s just a precautionary measure.