Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Klamath water--70 percent
Issue Date: April 27, 2005
By Christine Souza
Farmers in California's Klamath Basin will receive 70 percent of their normal federal water allocation this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
In addition, the bureau has asked growers to cut their total water use by 15 percent, even though they had donated 100,000 acre-feet of water to the water bank. The reduced allocation is a component of this year's U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operations plan for the Klamath Reclamation Project, which delivers water to Klamath Basin farmers.
"It is going to be another challenging year and I think there are some comparisons to 2001, although as of right now it is not going to be a repeat of 2001," said Tulelake Growers Association President Marty Macy, a member of the Modoc County Farm Bureau. "The bottom line is when you have 100,000 acre-feet of water under a management plan that is not well managed, everybody gets hurt, whether it is agriculture, habitat or whatever. We have stepped up as a project and are going to make it work."
The bureau's plan is based upon current and expected hydrologic conditions derived from the April 1 inflow forecast by the Natural Resource Conservation Service. It is consistent with the biological opinions issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The water plan incorporates an estimate of the Klamath Reclamation Project water supply, as well as anticipated lake elevations and river flows for the coming summer and winter seasons. Agricultural water users, Klamath Basin Indian tribes, national wildlife refuges and others use the plan to help guide their operations.
The estimated reclamation project irrigation water allocation is based upon an estimate that Upper Klamath Lake will supply 299,000 acre-feet between April 1 and Sept. 30. This amount could be affected by weather conditions and water bank requirements. The NRCS estimated that inflow for Upper Klamath Lake will total 215,000 acre-feet between April 1 and Sept. 30. The water year type for both Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River is now classified as "dry." The year-type designations are determined from specific criteria based upon forecasted and actual runoff, which are influenced by precipitation and temperature. Monthly variations in inflows introduce uncertainty about the final year-type determination. Generally, inflow forecasts after June 1 remain relatively stable for the remainder of the irrigation season.
"Since this is shaping up to be the third-driest year on record, I am asking all Klamath Basin farmers, both on and off the reclamation project, to really tighten up on their water usage," said Dave Sabo, the Bureau of Reclamation's area manager for the Klamath Basin.
In anticipation of the upcoming drought season, the bureau notified project irrigation districts that the Klamath Project drought plan has been activated. Sabo announced that the drought plan will remain in effect throughout this irrigation season.
Water deliveries will be closely monitored to ensure that Upper Klamath Lake elevation minimums and river flows will be met.
The bureau has developed a water bank of 100,000 acre-feet as required by the NOAA Fisheries, and will authorize water bank releases to supplement river flows according to the flow schedule. Flows from the water bank began supplementing river flows in February and March. As in the past, the water bank is aggregated through land idling and groundwater pumping.
The Klamath Basin Refuges have agreed to contribute up to 15,000 acre-feet from their marshes to meet a portion of the water bank requirements.
"I was born and raised in the Klamath Basin and have been farming since about 1980. A lot of farmers wait until they hear what is going to happen with water allocations, and then there are your progressive growers who jump in and get things done," said Tulelake alfalfa grower David King, a member of the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau.
During the 2001 water shutoff, King and some other growers had the foresight to drill wells to establish a secure source of groundwater for crops. He was able to irrigate about three-fourths of his farm with well water. This year, he said he again expects well water to satisfy 75 percent of his water needs.
King said this year's Bureau of Reclamation operations plan can serve as a planning tool for most growers in the Klamath Basin. For example, he said, potato farmers may use the document to help them decide where to plant potatoes.
"If I was growing potatoes, I would be more strategic as to where I would plant them," King said.
Visit www.usbr.gov/mp/kbao on the Web to view the Bureau of Reclamation operations plan.
(Christine Souza is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item. (Top)
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