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Basin leaders looking for drought solutions

  by DEVAN SCHWARTZ, Herald and News 4/30/13

followed by Joint biological opinion expected early May

     With a declared drought in Klamath County, politicians and community leaders have pointed their divining rods in the direction of solutions.

   Call it a trickle-up situation. Dry soils from a low water year and a thin snowpack have brought water supply issues all the way up the chain to our nation’s capitol.

   Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, took a recent lobbying trip to Washington, D.C. partly to discuss the drought and implications for irrigators.  

   Having spoken with Oregon’s congressional delegation, agencies and congressional committee staff, Addington said the results are unknown. “You plant a lot of seeds on a trip like this and you hope some of them take root.”

   The drought was declared April 16 by the Klamath County commissioners and was followed by Gov. John Kitzhaber’s declaration two days later.

   Kitzhaber’s executive order opens the doors for federal and state assistance to farmers and ranchers.

   The basis for the declaration includes a snowpack at 67 percent of average, streamflow predictions of 49 to 65 percent of average for April to September, and water storage in reservoirs at 72 percent of average.

   Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore., visited Klamath Falls April 20 partly to discuss the drought situation.

   Spokesman Andrew Malcolm said Walden is keeping in close touch to see what can be done for the Basin. “We’ve seen how devastating droughts in Klamath County have been before,” Malcolm said.   With water on everyone’s minds in the Basin, the particulars of drought relief remain as uncertain as they are important.

   Senatorial response to drought

   Oregon’s Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have called on the Bureau of Reclamation to provide drought protection for the Klamath Basin.

   At a recent hearing of the Wyden-chaired Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Reclamation’s commissioner Michael Connor was pushed for a commitment to keep water flowing in the Klamath Basin in anticipation of a drought.

   “Severe drought is just pounding the Klamath River Basin region of my home state,” Wyden said in a news release. “The Bureau of Reclamation is telling us that the basin has experienced the second-driest January through March on record. Oregonians want an assurance that the water won’t be cut off to the Klamath Project and that the local economy and fish and wildlife resources of the area will be protected.”

   “Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers are again facing a growing season without enough water,” Merkley added. “For those families and for the economy of the region, we’ve got to figure out a way to make sure that the farmers and ranchers in the Basin can get through this summer. A drought means there also isn’t enough water for fish and wildlife, another reason we need to keep working toward a comprehensive and collaborative solution. I look forward to working with Senator Wyden both to address this summer’s water shortage and to continue moving forward to secure a prosperous longterm future for the Basin.”

   The Senators cited the Water User Mitigation program run by the Klamath Water and Power Authority for which they previously secured $10 million in funding to compensate water users impacted by water banking and land idling.


 Joint biological opinion expected early May

     A highly anticipated collaborative biological opinion by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service could give insight into how the Klamath Basin’s irrigation season will take shape.

   Drought merely solidifies the Basin’s concern about water supply uncertainty.

   “Currently in the (Klamath) Project there is no ability to know how much water we get,” said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. “So many decisions relative to crops, inputs and resources need to be made by farmers and a new opinion should gives us some certainty as to supply, even though in a year like this it   will certainly be less than what we need.”

   Oregon’s senators expressed hope the joint biological opinion will improve Basin conditions.

   The opinion stipulates the amount of water that must be held in Upper Klamath Lake to benefit endangered sucker and how much water must be sent downriver for threatened coho, with remaining water going to irrigators and wildlife refuges.

   Although the USFWS predicted a deadline of mid-April, Reclamation’s area manger Jason Phillips said he expects the joint biological opinion on the operations of the Klamath Project in early May.




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