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Promising water outlook, but no promises

Even with a significant increase in precipitation and snowpack, the Klamath Project isn’t in the clear for a full water delivery this upcoming season.

The snowpack sits at 121 percent of median and Jeff Nettleton, manager of the Klamath Basin Area Office, projects a 325,000 acre feet or 93 percent of a normal water delivery for irrigators.

Under the 2019 biological opinion due April 1, the water supply will be capped at 350,000 acre feet compared to the previous 390,000 acre feet. The start date for irrigation season is April 1, as well.


“After April 1, that Project allocation cannot go down,” Nettleton said. “If the forecast changes or the actual water supply changes from what’s forecast beyond that date, the Project supply could conceivably go up.”

BOR officials emphasized water will now be made available from Klamath Straits Drain and Lost River Diversion Channel.

“That water actually gets credited back to Upper Klamath Lake, if that water is not used by the irrigators, in order to balance out lake levels,” Nettleton told irrigators Friday at the Klamath County Fairgrounds.

Significant improvement

The last six weeks in the Klamath Basin have been productive ones for building up the Klamath Basin’s snowpack. Since February, the Klamath Project has added upwards of 200,000 acre feet to its forecast inflows to Upper Klamath Lake.

“We’re looking pretty good for (the) 2019 water year,” Nettleton said. “We’ve got good storage left in snowpack that will be coming into these lakes as snowmelt occurs.”

Lake levels are measuring about 83 percent of capacity in Upper Klamath Lake.

“Really significant improvement,” Nettleton said. “It occurred a little later in the year than it typically does. Normally the snowpack builds in January or February. This year, it built in February and March.

“We’ve got a whole bunch of snowpack sitting in the mountains this year that we didn’t have last year,” he added. “We’re just really starting to see inflows pick up.”

The forecasts are constantly changing, and Nettleton pledged to update irrigators as the season moves along.

Paul Crawford, a Malin farmer, is one of several Project irrigators who shared questions and comments on the less than full delivery.

No promises

“In 2019, I plan on planting some permanent crops,” Crawford said. “With the new biological opinion, how likely am I going to be to irrigate those crops in the future years?”

Nettleton answered, “We can’t make any promises or guarantees, but we definitely want to get the best information we have into your hands and I understand the concerns that we have relative to the Project supply.”

Ben DuVal, of Tulelake, posed the question of how much precipitation would be needed to result in a full, 100 percent water supply to the Project.

“All we can do is work with the water that we get every year,” Nettleton said. “We’re talking not just precipitation and snowpack and when that snowpack melts.”

Mark Johnson, deputy executive director of Klamath Water Users Association, voiced concerns about the results following the meeting.

“It is hard to see because you get 121 percent of average (snowpack), you would expect a full supply,” Johnson said. “Under the old ‘bi-op,’ you would have that. They’re just constantly chipping away at the allocation, and that’s what’s scary. The only thing it has going for it is a definitive allocation April 1 and, in theory, you can use it whenever you want to after April 1.”

Johnson, who served as a fisheries biologist for about 15 years, said additionally, the main reason for KWUA to push for the new biological opinion was to get out from under court-ordered injunction involving “flushing flows” on the Klamath River.

Frustrations aired

Klamath County Commissioner Donnie Boyd also aired frustration with keeping the levels of Upper Klamath Lake high. Boyd spoke to Paul Souza, Pacific Southwest regional director for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, on a perceived need for those in the room to work together.

“Every single person in this room and all the rest of my friends in agriculture have been working with you, the services, and the Bureau of Reclamation, to recover the sucker fish since 1991,” Boyd said. “I want that to be very well understood. We don’t need to come together, we’re already trying to work on it.”

Souza responded to Boyd, saying he didn’t mean to imply that raising lake levels would improve recruitment of suckers.

“Right now, we think captive propagation is really the issue that we need until we can go forward and find a way to allow natural recruitment to happen again,” Souza said. “Nor did I mean to imply for a second that we do not have a wonderful relationship with farmers and ranchers and the public in the Upper Basin. Quite the contrary.

“What’s good for farmers and ranchers is good for the Pacific Flyway,” he added.

More voices

“We greatly appreciate the hard work of the three involved agencies to get this done. That’s essential to getting out from under the Court injunction that made 2018 so terrible. At the same time, the relative speed of the process made it difficult or impossible to engage with the agencies and others in the basin on some critical issues.”

— Luther Horsley, irrigator

“There are positive and negative things about what we heard.  We assume 2019 should work out, although there shouldn’t be any doubt about that in such a wet year. Over the next four years we will need wet conditions to not to have major negative impacts to the Klamath Basin, its people and economy. The anticipated water supply for the west side of the Klamath Project from the Klamath River system (referred to as Project Supply) is 325,000 acre-feet.  This does not include any water that might be available to the west side from the Lost River system or any recirculated water in the Klamath Straits Drain."

— Gene Souza, manager of Klamath Irrigation District, member of Klamath Water Users Association 

“I’m glad we seem to be getting past the injunction that just doesn’t work under the 2013 biological opinion. But I hope we’ll have a chance to get into some details with the agencies about the future. I also believe we have re-established some good relationships in the basin and I want those to hold up.”

  — Brad Kirby, manager, Tulelake Irrigation District

— Quotes from a KWUA news release




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              Page Updated: Monday March 25, 2019 01:42 AM  Pacific

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