The Klamath Basin in the western U.S. was once a string of pristine wetlands but in the middle of the 19th century settlers began diverting the three big rivers feeding the system for their own needs. All the wetlands were drained, the streams were straightened, the trees were cut down and cows were put on the land. Water diverted to the basin is now dwindling.
Some young farmers trying to find a path forward said it does feel like it’s not just the weather that’s against them – but the government and the courts too. With the only water left to them in the ground, and only for those with wells to pump it from, frustration has hit a peak.
“It’s costing us an absolute fortune”
The cost of pumping water compounds the already challenging cost of farming. There are mortgages, land leases, labor. And farmers are also required to pay fees to maintain the irrigation systems, even those that turn into dusty ditches. Those costs all favor scale, forcing smaller operations to shutter and pave way for large farms to buy up land.
“You don’t want to think about what’s coming. You want to just keep going and hope it gets better”.
“I guarantee if we have another year of drought, this Klamath Basin scenario is going to be in every irrigation district across the west.”