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KWAPA agrees to fund project.
Data from agencies monitoring Klamath Project groundwater wells put into one online database
  by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News  5/7/14
     The Klamath Power and Water Authority has agreed to fund a three-year project to compile data from agencies monitoring Klamath Project groundwater wells into one online database.

   The KWAPA board voted Tuesday to fund the $300,000 proposal presented by the U.S. Geological Survey. The purpose of the proposal is to understand what happens during groundwater pumping and identify trends in groundwater levels, according to Terrance Conlon, a USGS supervisory hydrologist. At least four agencies — the USGS, the Oregon Water Resources Department, the California Department of Water Resources and Tulelake Irrigation District — monitor on-project groundwater levels around 200 wells, he said.  

   “We’ve got multiple entities out there that have been collecting data over the years. The current process is pretty slow, clunky and inefficient,” said Ivan Gall, groundwater section manager for the Oregon Water Resource Department.

   “Getting a system in place like this will be a big improvement over where we are today,” he added.

   In April, the Bureau of Reclamation   announced on-project irrigators would have 239,000 acre-feet this year to irrigate. Jason Cameron, a hydrologist for the Bureau of Reclamation, said groundwater pumping and surface water deliveries have been above average this season.

   “We’re definitely using water from Upper Klamath Lake at a rate that’s too fast for the available supply,” he said.

   “The big question is, ‘How much groundwater pumping is sustainable?’ ” Cannon said.

   According to Conlon, no efficient method of predicting annual groundwater supplies, much less the long-term supply, currently exists. By creating a model that includes data from multiple agencies, water managers can predict the water supply more accurately and sooner — hopefully by April 1, he said.  

   In addition, the database will be a method to track monitoring and minimize inefficiencies, such as multiple agencies monitoring the same wells or areas that are being skipped over altogether, Conlon explained.

   Cannon said large-scale groundwater began in 2001, but managers and irrigators still don’t have a solid understanding of the resource’s extent and its ability to recover from year to year.

   “It’s critical to the future of the project that the resource is well understood,” he said.

   In 2013, on-project irrigators pumped 64,000 acre-feet. For the 2014 irrigation season, OWRD advised irrigators limit groundwater pumping to 40,000 acre-feet. According to Cannon, groundwater was the difference between disaster and making it through the irrigation season last year.

   “This year it’s the difference between total disaster and kind of OK,” he said.

   Cannon explained that implementing a groundwater monitoring system to ensure sustainable use also is a condition of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

   “If the KBRA were to be approved today, we would be behind schedule because we need this information in place,” he said.  

   Coordinating among agencies will allow scientists to tie Oregon and California groundwater levels together to determine what sustainable pumping really is, which is important to establish before the state of Oregon is forced to declare the Klamath Project “critical groundwater area, he said.

   “If we aren’t monitoring, how do we know when we’re safe or when we’re entering dangerous territory?” Cannon asked. “It’s good to get an understanding of it, so any year you know what volume of water you can take from the ground and not be overdrafting.”

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN



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