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BOR recommends reduced water allocation. Pending court action, no water start date guaranteed

Herald and News by Holly Dillemuth 3/27/18

The Bureau of Reclamation is proposing to start charging canals on April 19 and to deliver water to Klamath Project irrigators by late April, pending court action.

Reclamation filed a proposed Klamath Project Operations plan on Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to allocate 252,000 acre feet for Project irrigators, which is 65 percent of a normal allocation of 390,000 acre feet of water.

The court filing, as well as the motion by Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) filed March 9, would need to be approved to release water deliveries to the Basin irrigators. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 11 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the same day as KWUA’s annual meeting at 6 p.m. at Reames Golf Course.


“If the judge were to look at this proposal favorably, that’s a pretty good scenario, given the conditions we’re experiencing today,” said Scott White, executive director of the KWUA.

“We don’t know if the judge is going to rule from the bench, so it may be even a few days or a week after the hearing date before we hear back from the court.

White said he hopes to have more concrete information about the 2018 water year at the water users meeting, though there are no guarantees. The meeting is open to the public, and will feature Alan Mikkelsen, senior advisor to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on water and Western resources, as guest speaker.

“We’re hopeful that the judge will look at the current scenario and be mindful of that, and appreciate our situation, and realize that this is a matter of survival for many people this year,” White said.

Court-ordered injunction

Water users requested relief from a March 2017 court-ordered injunction that called for Klamath River water flows to mitigate parasite concerns affecting endangered coho salmon in the Klamath River.

There are two ways to flush out the river; so-called “surface flushing” and “emergency dilution flows.” The second one could adversely affect water levels in Klamath Lake.

The court-ordered injunction requires a three-day surface flushing flow on the Klamath River between Nov. 1 and April 30, and emergency dilution flows later in the spring or summer if necessary. The injunction also states the release of water should not interfere with lake levels necessary to protect ESA-listed Klamath Basin sucker species in the lake.

Instead, Reclamation is proposing implementation of a full surface flushing flow, augmented with non-Project water; foregoing additional emergency dilution flows due to the likelihood that it could cause water levels in Upper Klamath Lake to fall below minimum levels to protect endangered sucker species.

Refuge nesting could be affected

Reclamation’s proposal calls for 7,000 acre feet of water provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and about 4,000 acre feet of water from two tracts of land adjacent to Upper Klamath Lake, which is part of the refuge complex.

Susan Sawyer, a spokesperson for Fish and Wildlife Service, said, “The timing of (the release) is critical to whether or not it would have an impact on the refuge resources.”

Sawyer said it is not peak migration season yet for birds, but it is in its early stages.

“We believe there will be little to no long-term impacts to refuge resources and Pacific Flyway migratory bird populations. The refuge will lose some nesting and bird habitat by returning water to the river in that 7,000-acre-feet allotment, however, we believe the greater need is to support the management of lake levels and flushing flows in the river, which overall are going to provide a much greater benefit to the Klamath Watershed during this difficult water year.”

PacifiCorp is also voluntarily contributing 10,500 acre feet of water from reservoirs to augment the Project’s limited supply.

Reclamation officials said new information indicates limited scientific support for dilution flows, and the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have indicated that implementation of a surface flushing flow should be a priority over emergency dilution flows.

“Reclamation believes this proposal provides the best solution for addressing disease concerns for coho salmon in the Klamath River Basin while also ensuring water levels necessary to protect endangered sucker in the Upper Basin,” said Alicia Forsythe, BOR deputy regional director of the Mid-Pacific.

“This proposal allows Reclamation to protect important Tribal Trust Resources while allowing for water supply certainty and economic stability for our agricultural communities in the Klamath Basin.”

Reclamation will repay the voluntary water contribution from PacifiCorp and USFWS by fall or winter 2018 in time for fall migration, Sawyer said.

“Reclamation greatly appreciates the hard work and willingness of the Fish and Wildlife Service and PacifiCorp to help identify and offer alternative water sources to meet the court-ordered surface flushing flow for 2018,” Forsythe said in a news release.

“We are hopeful that the court fully considers Reclamation’s proposal so that the 2018 water year addresses competing water demands and stakeholder interests within the Klamath Basin.”

Cumulative inflows to Upper Klamath Lake since the beginning of 2018 have been some of the lowest observed on record, according to the BOR, and Reclamation has determined there is not enough water in the Klamath Basin system to produce a surface flushing flow with Klamath Basin Project water and still meet elevation requirements for sucker species.



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