Klamath Water Users Association
February 21, 2003
Water Users, Agencies Prepare for 2003 Irrigation Season
Local water users and state and federal resources agencies are looking to the skies, praying for rain (and snow), and working together to prepare for a water year that will once again stretch available water supplies to the limit. After several weeks of warmer weather and shrinking snow pack, a new layer of fresh snow was dropped in the Cascades this past week, raising hopes among local water users for an improved water supply this year. However, the fact remains that a combination of dry weather, multiple demands for water, and rigid fishery agency requirements to meet Endangered Species Act (ESA) obligations will make 2003 a challenging year for irrigators served by the Klamath Project.
Agencies and local water users are scrambling to prepare for the coming irrigation season, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is preparing its 2003 Klamath Project operations plan, which will identify lake levels required to meet sucker requirements, an Iron Gate Dam flow release schedule to meet coho salmon requirements, and water storage and acquisition proposals upstream of Upper Klamath Lake. The Klamath Project and national wildlife refuges essentially receive the remaining supplies after these other obligations have been met.
“We get what’s left over”, said Dave Solem, general manager for Klamath Irrigation District.
This premise is a hard one for local irrigators to accept, since the stored water of the Klamath Project was originally designed to be used specifically for irrigation purposes. That stored water – which in summer months would likely have already flowed to the ocean before the Project was constructed in the early 1900’s – has been steadily whittled away and reallocated by the government to meet increasing ESA and tribal trust “obligations”.
Reclamation is aggressively seeking to secure additional water supplies to meet 2003 water demands. Federal lands above Upper Klamath Lake are being closely examined to determine if they can be re-managed to provide additional water storage. Local property owners in the area are also working with federal officials to modify grazing practices that could free up Wood River flows for possible downstream use. Klamath Project irrigators are working with Reclamation and state groundwater officials to develop a pilot environmental water bank project intended to compensate farmers for idling land or using groundwater in place of Project water, thereby leaving Project water in Upper Klamath Lake to be used for environmental purposes. Reclamation is also working with the national wildlife refuges to ensure proper management of those water supplies.
As of yesterday, the Natural Resources Conservation Service estimates the water content in mountain snowpack to be 58% of average in Klamath County. A chance of snow or rain is expected over the weekend in the Southern Oregon Cascades, north to Crater Lake, which forms the western boundary of the Klamath Basin watershed. While the current hydrology contributes in part to water supply uncertainty this year, even greater ambiguity results from the quirky nature of fishery agency biological opinions that dictate how Klamath Project stored water is parceled out to meet the purported needs of two sucker species and coho salmon protected by the ESA (see related story, page 2).
Klamath Project Operations Still Guided by Rigid Lake Level, River Flow Regs
In the last ten years, since two sucker species were listed as endangered and coho salmon were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), biological opinions rendered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (for the suckers) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS – for the coho), have increasingly emphasized the reallocation of Project water as the sole means of avoiding jeopardizing these fish. The net result of these restrictions on local water users was fully realized on April 6, 2001, when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) announced its water allocation for the Project after USFWS and NMFS officials finalized the biological opinions (BOs) for project operations in a critically dry year. Based on the actions of those regulatory actions, Reclamation announced that – for the first time in Project’s 95-year history - no water would be available from Upper Klamath Lake to supply Project irrigators.
The resulting impacts to the local community were immediate and far-reaching, and local farmers are still trying to recover from the 2001 decision. Thousands of acres of valuable farmland were left without water, and the wildlife benefits provided by those farms – particularly the food provided for area waterfowl – were also lost with the water.
Concerned about the plight of farmers and the questions raised about the science used by NMFS/ USFWS, U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton commissioned a review of the BOs by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). An interim report last year concluded that insufficient scientific evidence existed to justify the higher lake and river levels to protect coho salmon and suckerfish. A full report is due next month. While Reclamation’s final 10-year Biological Assessment properly incorporates the findings of the NAS, the fishery agency BOs do not. The USFWS opinion continues to perpetuate the questionable assumption that lake level management is the principle mechanism affecting sucker survival in Upper Klamath Lake. The NMFS jeopardy decision similarly continues to place high emphasis on downstream flows. While Reclamation last June sharply disagreed with the findings of each agency, it is not yet clear how consultation will be reinitiated and a 10-year operations plan finalized.
Local water users have consistently encouraged Interior and NMFS to reconsider the rigid proposals for streamflow releases and lake levels contained in the existing biological opinions.
“We need a more flexible management plan that will allow all affected interests a better opportunity to respond and adapt to the water conditions as they develop during the irrigation season,” said Dave Cacka, a Malin farmer. “Unfortunately, the lack of flexibility caused by fishery agency regulations has already hurt the Basin irrigation community, and has produced division, not cooperation.”
The Klamath Project, built nearly 100 years ago and operated by Reclamation, covers roughly 200,000 acres that straddle the California-Oregon border. The Project represents 2% of the land area in the entire Klamath River watershed, and depletes roughly 2% of the water that finds its way to the Pacific Ocean, 200 miles downstream. It was built to provide water stored in the federal project (Upper Klamath Lake, Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir) specifically for irrigation purposes.
Conservation Workshop Scheduled
The Klamath Water and Soil Conservation District and Cascade Earth Sciences (CES) are hosting a daylong workshop on water conservation opportunities in the Klamath Basin. The workshop will be held at the Shiloh Inn in Klamath Falls next Tuesday, February 25th, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The admission price of $40 includes bound copies of all presentations, plus lunch.
“We are proud to join with our co-sponsors to bring Basin landowners the most up-to-date planning information available,” said Robert Coffan, senior hydrologist with CES.
The workshop will feature a range of presentations that outline conservation programs and technological services available for Basin producers faced with rising power costs and increased competition for once-reliable irrigation water supplies. KWUA Executive Director Dan Keppen and Marshall Staunton, co-chair of the Upper Klamath Basin Working Group, will outline water conservation policy issues at a luncheon discussion. The KWUA presentation will focus on the Klamath Project’s design and the interrelated nature of water use within it, including the use of return flows by farmers and the refuge.
“Project efficiency is very high,” said Keppen. “One must understand that the Klamath Project has developed into a highly effective, highly interconnected form of water management.”
According to a 1998 study commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), effective efficiency for the overall Project is 93 percent, making the Klamath Project one of the most efficient in the country.
Conservation Workshop Scheduled
The 1998 study, prepared by Davids Engineering of Davis, California, observes that careful consideration must be given to implementing new conservation measures that meet their objectives without setting in motion a chain of unintended consequences. KWUA has worked with Reclamation and urged the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to use Reclamation expertise to screen potential on-farm conservation projects and ensure that selected on-farm conservation projects are viewed in a “big-picture” manner with this consideration in mind. Reclamation is currently working to secure consultants from the California Polytechnic Institute to assist local districts in this process.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Saturday and Sunday, February 22 & 23, 2003 – Western Land Use Conference. Klamath County Fairgrounds. Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003 – Water Conservation in the Klamath Basin: What’s the Potential? 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Shiloh Inn, Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003 – Clean Water Act Workshop. Oregon Water Resources Congress office, Salem, Oregon. Contact Anita Winkler at OWRC for more information.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003 – Workshop: Niche Marketing of Ag Products. 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. OSU Extension Auditorium, 3328 Vandenberg, Klamath Falls, Oregon. For more information, contact Mike Connelly at KBEF (541-850-1717).
Klamath Water Users
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