With drought conditions worsening in Southern Oregon, the Klamath Tribes for the first time are exercising their claim as the most senior water rights holder in the Klamath Basin.
It’s a step that could make water unavailable for farmers to irrigate tens of thousands of acres of crops and alfalfa.
The tribes delivered what's known as "a call" Monday to the Oregon Water Resources Department. That's when a senior water rights holder gives notice that its water demands are outpacing available flows.
The Klamath Tribes’ water rights were legally recognized this spring as the oldest in the upper basin.
Four irrigation districts as well as the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also filed calls today.
Scott White is the local water-master for the Oregon Water Resources Department. He says the next step is to validate those calls, in order to confirm the requests are warranted.
"And then it's my job to go find them water, which usually means shutting off junior water right holders to satisfy their senior water right," White says.
White says it's too early to say just how much water will need to be diverted by the calls or how many junior rights holders along the Upper Klamath River will be affected.
Copyright 2013 Oregon Public Broadcasting