Klamath Water Users Association 

Weekly Update

July 5, 2003



Water Users and Tribes Meet with State and Federal Agencies

Senior agency officials from California, Oregon and the federal government on Wednesday, July 2nd in Klamath Falls met with local water users and tribal interests in an effort to avoid further crises this year like the one in late June that nearly halted Klamath Project water deliveries. Despite five hours of open discussion, some posturing, and debate, the solutions that came out of the meeting essentially dropped in the laps of Project irrigators. Increased reliance on local groundwater supplies – and if necessary, partial irrigation cutbacks to local farms and ranches - were viewed as necessary actions to reduce diversions out of Upper Klamath Lake for the remainder of the summer.

Origins of the Meeting

The meeting was hastily assembled in the days immediately following the June 25th “operations turnaround”, where a decision by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) to shut down diversions from Upper Klamath Lake (UKL) was reversed hours later. By the end of the day on June 25th, after further consideration of the dire ramifications associated with such a move, Reclamation backed off its initial request and instead notified farmers to continue their efforts to reduce diversions from the lake. That same day, Steve Thompson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Manager of California and Nevada Operations, began calling other agency leaders in California and Oregon with the intent of bringing parties together to “brainstorm” on ideas that would prevent similar crises later this summer. Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Regional Director, Kirk Rodgers, and Paul Cleary, Director of the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD), also played important organizing roles for Wednesday’s meeting.

The Players

Nearly 50 individuals participated in Wednesday’s meeting, including a contingent of local water users, representatives from the Hoopa, Karuk, Klamath and Yurok tribes, and local and federal elected officials. Key agency representatives included:

Art Baggett – Chairman of the California State Water Resources Control Board.
Paul Cleary – Director of the Oregon Water Resources Department.
Bob Hight – Director of the California Department of Fish and Game.
Jim Lecky – Chief Operations Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Regional Office in Long Beach, California.
Kirk Rodgers – Director of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Region.
Dwight Russell – Chief of the Northern District, California Water Resources Department.
Steve Thompson – Manager of the California-Nevada Operations Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento.

Representatives from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust were also in attendance. The stakeholder meeting was held at the Shilo Inn in Klamath Falls, and started 90 minutes after a state-federal agency meeting that was limited to agency representatives only.

Dueling Prayers

Within minutes of Steve Thompson opening Wednesday’s meeting, it became apparent that stakeholder positioning would flavor the proceedings. Sue Maston, spokesperson for the Yurok Tribe, asked that Ron Reed, a Karuk tribal representative, lead the group in prayer. Reed exhorted his Creator to guide the meeting in a way that would bring unity help ultimately to restore the downstream fishery so important to the tribes. After the prayer, Thompson attempted to re-start the meeting, but not before Sam Henzel, spokesman for Klamath Drainage District, launched into a prayer of his own, asking his God for similar guidance towards unity. With higher forces now engaged on both sides, Thompson was able to begin business.

Agency Presentations

Thompson led off a one-hour series of background presentations by the agencies that he termed a “state of the union” for the Klamath River watershed. He expressed concern for the “ bad glide path” that UKL levels were projected to take in July, based on Reclamation projections. A decision by the USFWS on June 26th to hold minimum lake levels to the average of the levels associated with the two water-year types designated in June helped prevent a “bust” of the June minimum lake level established in the USFWS biological opinion for Klamath Project operations. Thompson emphasized that the meeting focus on developing functional decisions to avoid a lake level violation at the end of July.

“We need to make some quick, hard decisions today,” said Thompson. “We need to help each other.”

Thompson and other USFWS officials explained that the national wildlife refuges adjacent to the Klamath Project had already curtailed deliveries.

Dave Sabo, Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office Manager, then outlined the current and projected water supply conditions. Sabo noted that, despite developing water banking programs along the Wood River and in the Klamath Project that will generate an estimated 84,000 acre-feet of water to offset environmental objectives, the combination of low inflows into Upper Klamath Lake and the more restrictive conditions placed by Reclamation’s recent decision to change the “dry” water year type designation to “below average” would make meeting July UKL levels very challenging.

On June 13th, Reclamation changed the water year type from “dry” to “below average”, primarily due to an extraordinarily wet April. As a result of the year-type change, minimum levels established by the USFWS for suckers in Upper Klamath Lake jumped by seven inches.

Sabo noted that in the time since Reclamation changed the water year type – when UKL inflows were 92% of average – net inflows into the lake had virtually disappeared.

Paul Cleary, OWRD Director, then summarized the conditions above Upper Klamath Lake – outside of the Klamath Project – that may have led to the sudden drop in lake inflows. According to Cleary, OWRD water masters surveyed the Sprague, Williamson and Wood rivers earlier in the week to assess water use and natural hydrologic conditions in the area.

“We have found no gross neglect or misuse of water in the tributary areas,” said Cleary. Others present at the meeting noted that irrigation operations above and around Upper Klamath Lake might be peaking, since the wet spring had delayed intensive irrigation in those upstream areas. Cleary suggested that there might be opportunities along the tributaries for those water users to “forebear” their use of water to help meet the challenges faced by downstream Project irrigators.

Jim Lecky of NOAA Fisheries briefly described the status of the water year type established in the biological opinion developed by NMFS for coho salmon downstream. Despite questions about the year type designation for UKL – which is driven by separate criteria – the NMFS water year type would likely stay in the below-average water year designation. Therefore, Klamath River flows currently in place would continue to hold.

Cleary indicated that preliminary data appeared to suggest that the delayed effects of drought conditions over the past few years may be finally impacting groundwater-fed tributaries above the lake. According to Cleary, OWRD staff has observed a 25-30 % flow reduction in spring-fed streams that have no irrigation diversions.

Bob Hight, Director of the California Department of Fish and Game, completed the agency presentations with a summary of the efforts underway in the Scott and Shasta river watershed to help recover coho salmon populations.

Key Issues

With the agency “state of the union” presentations complete, Thompson asked for the group to identify the key issues that needed to be addressed. Eventually, a list of the priorities was developed:

 Identification of the factors influencing the sharp noted reduction in UKL inflows;
 Recognition of the importance of the projected lake level “glide path” and the potential for a UKL level “bust” of the biological opinion;
 Validity of the water year re-designation;
 The need to identify and fix administrative “kinks” apparent in the current biological opinions;
 Implications associated with the pending decision by Judge Armstrong relative to the coho biological opinion;
 Current Klamath River conditions and the health of juvenile fish;
 Concern about a potential fish die-off in Upper Klamath Lake; and
 The need to find ways for stakeholders and agencies to better work together.

Potential Solutions

With time running out as agency representatives prepared to head back to California and Salem, the remainder of the meeting focused on finding solutions to avoid a July “bust” of the UKL level. California agency representatives suggested that state funds might be available to compensate groundwater users to switch on wells and replace Project water use with groundwater. Cursory discussion also materialized about programs that might pay farmers to forego water use for the remainder of the year. Project irrigator representatives strongly pushed for Reclamation to rescind its decision to switch the year type, especially in consideration of the drastic inflow reductions apparent in UKL. Klamath Tribe representatives expressed concern about this potential action, and stated that one of two possible measures might be asked for in exchange for such a move:

1. Operation of Upper Klamath Lake to “above average” water year conditions in 2004, regardless of the actual hydrology; or

2. Firm assurances that Klamath Project demand be reduced by 100,000 acre-feet next year.
When questioned by local water users about this latter condition; Tribal representatives appeared to advocate a permanent reduction in Klamath Project acreage, rather than an expanded water bank. Reclamation and USFWS officials, when asked by local irrigators, noted that they have not completed an assessment of the impacts on sucker populations in the Lost River or Tule Lake if Project deliveries were curtailed. Irrigators emphasized that the relative risk to UKL suckers arising from a “bust” of a few inches must be weighed against the risk of suckers reliant in part on UKL deliveries that would be completely curtailed.


While Wednesday’s meeting provided a rare opportunity for policy makers and stakeholders to discuss looming water challenges, the solutions discussed were predictable and appear to be handed off to Klamath Project irrigators. At a meeting on Thursday at the Klamath Water Users Association, local districts took quick action to encourage patrons to find ways to reduce UKL diversions and conserve water. These actions include:

 Klamath Irrigation District (KID) has told its employees to contact customers and let them know the district will accept groundwater into its delivery system, starting July 3rd.

 Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) has activated wells to help offset deliveries from Station 48.

 TID will have a board meeting on Monday and will consider noticing its customers that fall irrigation may be disallowed and that irrigation rotation plans will be activated.

 Klamath Drainage District is working with landowners to assess a schedule that might reduce diversions to its patrons.

 Several irrigation districts are contacting well owners who were not selected under Reclamation’s water bank program to see if there is interest in voluntary use of wells to offset UKL deliveries. Already, several landowners within KID in the Merrill area had apparently already activated their wells.

 KWUA is working with California and Oregon to find state and non-profit funding sources to assist well owners with pumping costs. KWUA notified the Klamath Herald and News on Friday about the need to conserve and the call for voluntary groundwater use that will be required to avoid a possible Project curtailment later this year. The Herald and News on July 4th ran an article that reflects this message. Water users continue to push the argument that, based on current hydrological conditions, the “dry” water year classification for UKL still holds. The latest inflow forecast by the Natural Resource Conservation Service shows flows into Upper Klamath Lake remain below 312,000 acre-feet, which meets the dry year classification. At the present time, no decision has been reached by federal officials relative to water users’ request that the water year re-designation be rescinded.

KWUA Receives Oregon “Leadership in Conservation” Award

The Klamath Water Users Association on June 23rd was notified by Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) Director Katy Coba that it has been selected as the recipient of the 2003 Agriculture Progress Award for “Leadership in Conservation”. The ODA award recognizes the association’s “leadership and commitment to the state’s conservation efforts”.

Over the past ten years, local water users have engaged in a multitude of actions intended to gain water supply reliability, recover endangered sucker fish populations, and conserve water on farm and ranch land. Over 250 individual restoration projects have been completed throughout the Upper Basin in the past 10 years. In the last year alone, local irrigators have voluntarily agreed to participate in an environmental water bank that will provide 60,000 acre-feet of water to meet Endangered Species Act requirements this year, and over 600 applications have been received for water conservation projects using Farm Bill funds that KWUA helped secure. And the Bureau of Reclamation, in partnership with Klamath Irrigation District, completed a $14 million state-of-the-art fish screen that will prevent the entrainment of one million endangered suckers every year.

Coba’s letter thanked KWUA for its “commitment to bettering Oregon’s agricultural industry.” “I know that others have profited from your vision and leadership,” Coba told KWUA.

KWUA will be presented with the award during the September 3 Agriculture Progress Awards Dinner in Pendleton.

TNC Turns on Tulana Pumps to Assist with Upper Klamath Lake Levels

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on June 28th contacted the Klamath Water Users Association of its plan to pump 25 cubic feet per second of water off its Tulana Farms property and into Upper Klamath Lake to assist with meeting lake level elevations. The Tulana Farms project is one of several along Upper Klamath Lake in recent years that have converted agricultural lands into restored wetlands.

“This is our way of doing what we can to aid Project farmers and meet conflicting needs during this time of crisis,” said Mark Stern, TNC’s director of its Klamath Basin Conservation Area.


Monday, July 7, 2003 - Klamath Hydro Project FERC Relicensing Aquatics Meeting. 12:00 p.m. Iron Gate Hatchery.

Tuesday, July 8, 2003 – Klamath Hydro Project FERC Relicensing Aquatics Meeting. 8:30 a.m. Windmill Inn, Ashland, Oregon.

Thursday, July 10, 2003 – Water 2025 Conference. Sacramento, California. KWUA will participate on a panel at this meeting, one of several scheduled throughout the western United States this summer.

Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
(541)-883-6100 FAX (541)-883-8893 kwua@cdsnet.net

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