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KWAPA meeting Irrigation leaders convene to create an on-Project plan for this summer
by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 1/29/14
  H&N photo by Steven Silton

   Concerned irrigators packed into a KWAPA meeting Wednesday to see how the committee plans to deal with a predicted Basin drought.

     Water manager groups hosted two meetings this week to discuss the development of an “On-Project Plan” that could create more water certainty for Basin irrigators. If successful, the plan would secure minimum volumes of water, even in drought years.

   The Klamath Water and Power Association (KWAPA) hosted the meetings, where plan outlines for aligning future water supply and demand in the Klamath Irrigation District were discussed. According to Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), the goal of the “On-Project Plan” (OPP) is to establish blocks of water for irrigators that cannot be influenced by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) or other regulatory entities. If funded by Congress, the OPP could be in use as early as 2022. “No involuntary shortages; that is the goal of this whole program,” he said. The long-term plan is an extension of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), a 2010 settlement intended establish reliable water supplies and affordable power rates for irrigators and restore fish habitat, Addington said. ESA in-stream flow requirements for threatened coho salmon populations in California and endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers in Oregon have put additional pressure on already overtaxed water supplies.  
  H&N photos by Steven Silton.  Both Mark Van Camp (above) and Greg Addington spoke to a group of community irrigators Wednesday.

  Addington and project manager Marc Van Camp, who presented the OPP plan at the meetings, emphasized that the plan will move irrigators away from inconsistent water allocations by establishing a volume that will be available each year. The volume will be based on water availability, conservation strategies, and demand management, although under the plan, land idling is considered a last resort.  

   “It’s a more sophisticated approach to water management than has occurred before,” Addington said.

   The OPP is meant to give the water users some control over how the water is maintained, Van Camp, co-owner of Californiabased MBK Engineers, said. His firm specializes in flood control and water resources and rights issues.

   The east side of the project is not included in the plan because it is irrigated from a reservoir outside the Klamath Basin, he said.  

   Allocation plan key for frugal water usage

   According to Addington, in 2010, 110 percent of the average snowwater equivalent accumulated, but only 47 percent of irrigation demand was met with surface water. He hypothesized that the discrepancy in precipitation and irrigation supply was caused by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinions, and emphasized the importance for having an in-place water allocation framework to protect irrigators from similar water years in the future.

   “I personally do not believe the ESA is going away anytime soon. We want to protect ourselves; we want to make sure we have coverage and don’t get sued,” Addington said.

   According to a KWAPA newsletter, goals and objectives of the OPP include minimizing reductions and avoid uncompensated reductions in irrigated agriculture; developing a fair, equitable and transparent strategies for aligning water supply and demand; using groundwater in a longterm and sustainable manner and addressing all relevant in-basin management objectives.

   Supply announcement moves up by a month

   In addition to securing a reliable annual water irrigation flow, plan developers have bumped the season water supply announcement up a month.

   “You will know on March 1 how much water can be pulled out of the system,” said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance.

   According to Van Camp, OPP developers wanted to give folks a head start in planning their water year.

   “On March 1, you have a 90 percent confidence level that you’re not going to hit an extreme drought. In April, you can make a new determination,” Van Camp said.

   Under the proposed plan, the least amount the irrigation district could receive in extreme drought years is about 220,000 acre feet, he added.  

   According to Addington, conditions to ensure agriculture and refuge operations remain sustainable have been incorporated in the OPP.

   “Refuges not having water is not a good option for any of us,” he said.

   Van Camp said the OPP stakeholder group has been working on the plan for more than two years, and has already completed a series of open meetings to update the community and collect feedback. OPP developers hope to have a draft summary report this year.

   “We’re near the end,”   Van Camp said. “Our goal is to have things in place by 2022 and of course, the costs are extremely high.”

   Next steps for plan

   Because the OPP is an off shoot of the KBRA, funding for the program must be approved and appropriated by Congress. If the KBRA legislation is approved this year, the OPP can begin moving toward implementing the strategy 2015.

   “We don’t have all the answers today, but we have a good start,” Van Camp said.  

   According to Addington, if congress passes legislation that funds the OPP and other aspects of the KBRA, irrigators will not have to worry about a water call. But, he said, even if the legislation dies in Congress, the lessons learned in the process will be beneficial.

   “We’re going to be better off going through this process even if the KBRA goes away tomorrow,” he said.

   Funding for the development of the OPP came from the Bureau of Reclamation.

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN  



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