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Water diversion on hold, adjudication order for Fourmile Lake withdrawn for review
by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 2/11/14

     An adjudication order for water diversion at Fourmile Lake, handed out last year, has been withdrawn and is under review by the Oregon Water Resources Department.

   The August 2013 order informed the Medford Irrigation District (MID) and the Rogue Valley Irrigation District, who jointly own the diversion, they needed to “install a lockable headgate and measuring device at the point of diversion from Fourmile Lake.”  According to the MID and RRVID petition for reconsideration, a headgate and measuring device are already installed at the Fourmile diversion. The petition, filed in October, states the type of mechanisms installed are “exceedingly common” and they can be easily locked to ensure no more water is released into the canal than permitted under the districts’ water rights.

   According to Racquel Rancier, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), the order was withdrawn in December and is still under review.

   Water from Fourmile Lake, which is in Klamath County, near the base of Mount McLoughlin, has historically flowed into the Klamath Basin, but the water has been diverted to the Rogue Valley for more than 100 years, Baumgartner said.  

   Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Authority, said it shouldn’t matter who has been using the water, even if it’s been utilized as a long-term interest — regional water rights should be treated according to adjudication.

   “It becomes a difficult issue when somebody has relied on water from a particular source,” he said. “It’s the law and the way things have been done throughout the West.”

   OWRD adjudication regulation, implemented for the first time in 2013, provides surface water rights based on priority date of property claims. The older the claim date, the more senior the water right — junior water users’ irrigation supply can be shut off if a senior water right makes a claim to that water.

   According to the petition, the RRVID has a March 1910 water right. The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the land surrounding Fourmile Lake, has a pre-1910 water right.  

   If the Forest or another Klamath Basin senior water right holder made a water call, the results could be disastrous, said Bryan Baumgartner, a representative of the Rogue Basin Water Users Council.

   “It would have a dramatic impact on approximately 4,000 acres of land,” he said, adding that the diverted water is used for more than just irrigation — it provides municipal and industrial water to Rogue Valley users and the in-stream flows used to move the water improves stream quality.

   According to Baumgartner, the maximum amount of water that can be stored in Fourmile is about 15,600 acre-feet, though not all of that water is available to irrigators. If a water call was made, the water would have to be diverted into the Klamath Basin, but Baumgartner said right now, no system exists that can divert water to Upper Klamath Lake.

   Though Cannon doesn’t believe the diverted water will significantly alleviate water worries in the Basin, he doesn’t think the volume so small a water call would be considered futile.

   “Every drop of water counts, but the Fourmile water is a drop in the bucket,” Cannon said.

   According to Rancier, the ESA does not have an adjudication priority date, and therefore does not have a water right.

   “The department regulates based on water rights of record in order to protect senior water rights.  

   The federal ESA flows in the Rogue are not water rights of record, so they are not integrated into the state water right system,” she said.

   No date has been set for a ruling, but if a call for water is made before the ruling is released, the department will work with irrigators to figure out the next steps, Rancier said.  

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN  

  H&N file photo

   The water from Fourmile Lake is diverted into the Cascade Canal before traveling into Fish Lake and into the Little Butte Creek and a series of natural water systems and canals that take it into the Rogue Basin.




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