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Bureau: Project should get full water deliveries

Lynn Long, who heads up the Klamath Water Users Association power committee, gives an update on talks with PacifiCorp about electricity contracts. The contracts are set to expire in 2006, and irrigators could face large price increases.

Published April 8, 2004


Because more water is flowing into Upper Klamath Lake and because the rules for managing the water are more flexible, irrigators should get the water they need this year.

That message, delivered at a meeting Wednesday night, left Klamath Reclamation Project farmers feeling optimistic.

"Hopefully, we will have full deliveries of water - that's always a big concern," said Keith Blackman, a Henley-area farmer.

About 100 people gathered at the Klamath County Fairgrounds to hear federal and state officials and leaders of the Klamath Water Users Association give updates on issues surrounding the Klamath Reclamation Project.

These meetings have become prominent as a result of the shutoff of water in 2001 and the shutoff scare in 2003. Most who came Wednesday night wanted to learn what this year had in store for the Project, as described in its operations plan.

Project Manager Dave Sabo was optimistic about a full irrigation season for two reasons:

n More inflow should be coming in from the mountains - 420,000 acre-feet is expected this year versus the 320,000 acre-feet that came in last year.

n Adjustments in how the lake's numbers are crunched. Officials said the plan has more flexibility crafted by the Bureau with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.

One of the major changes that will lead to more flexibility is how inflows are accounted for and managed, Sabo said. The Bureau is going to experiment with managing the lake with a curve based on inflows instead of a step function.

One reason for the shutoff scare last year was a management plan in which a small change in water in the system resulted in a large change in how it was managed. Managing the water based on a curve in a graph rather than on a stairstep is expected to smooth out the flow of water and avoid abrupt changes.

"We had to buy some breathing room," Sabo said.

Based on the lake's expected inflow, this year is going to be "below average."

This designation, combined with the expected inflow, means the project and the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Lake refuges should get 335,000 acre-feet of water, and other refuges should get 25,000 acre-feet. The project's east side, which is fed by Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir, should get 71,300 acre-feet.

Sabo also talked about getting changes in the biological opinions, or the federal documents that lay out the management of the Project. There are two opinions, one for the lake and one for the river.

The river would probably the one changed first, but that change could still be a couple years off because the government would have to go through reconsultation, Sabo said. Basically that means that the Bureau has to have hard data support any changes to the opinion.

Talk of changing the biological opinions was welcomed by many at the meeting, said Matt Huffman, a Tulelake Irrigation District farmer, but they said it will take time.

"It concerns me because it could be a long, drawn-out process," Huffman said.

He said things looked good last year, but then there was almost a shutoff.

"It kind of shows you how short the rope is," Huffman said.

In attempts to lengthen that rope, Dan Keppen, executive director has long advocated a Basinwide approach to solving the Klamath situation.

He said officials and groups are starting to hear his message.

"We are trying to improve relations as an association with real stakeholders downriver," he said.

He said these are other agricultural groups, tribes and others downstream of the project.

But to get things down there needs to be money, federal money and lots of it. Keppen said some of the needed money is on its way, thanks to the Bush administration and the president's budget proposal announced in late January to have $105 million marked for Basin habitat restoration and water improvement projects.

"Two months ago the (Bush) administration put its money where its mouth is," Keppen said.




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