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Irrigators prepare for the worst

  Delivery uncertainty: Klamath Project operating ‘without guidance’

  by DEVAN SCHWARTZ, Herald and News 5/9/13

     Pasture. Alfalfa. Grains. Early season irrigation is already under way in the Klamath Basin amid a drought year and uncertain water deliveries.

   “We’re operating somewhat normally now — what the future holds for us we don’t quite know,” said Mark Stuntebeck   , manager of Klamath Irrigation District, the largest in the Klamath Project.        A below-normal water year is exacerbated by the Klamath Project operating without guidance from mandated federal biological opinions.

   On Tuesday afternoon, A Canal was conveying 747 cubic feet of water per second with an additional 770 CFS through a pump at Miller Hill, south of the airport.

   The statutory deadline called for a joint biological opinion by April 17. That deadline will likely lapse by a month or more, according to Matt Baun, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman.  

   “It totally stinks on our end because we don’t know anything,” said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. “My guys are sitting here figuring out how much groundwater to pump. We have no idea what to do. Do we just take a lot of land out of production and have that effect on the economy? We feel like we’d better prepare for the worst.”

   The biological opinion, to be completed jointly by USFWS and National Marine Fisheries Service, stipulates the amount of water that must be held in Upper Klamath Lake to benefit the endangered sucker, and how much water must be sent downriver for threatened coho salmon. Remaining water goes to irrigators and   wildlife refuges.

   “We’re all waiting for the new biological opinion, but you can’t not take any water until things become clear and a water supply is determined,” Stuntebeck said. “We’re taking a fews sips from the glass now and we’ll find out how full the glass is at some point in time.”

   Added Addington, “There’s just a lot riding   on what some folks are doing in a room a long way from here to figure out what that (biological opinion) looks like. It’s gut-wrenching because we don’t know what to expect or when to expect it, and the crops are in the ground.”

   Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office manager Jason Phillips said they expect to receive the joint biological opinion in mid- to late- May, after which they can finalize their operations plan.

   “The 2013 operations plan will identify overall project operations and the water supply available for the Klamath Project during the 2013 irrigation season,” said Phillips.

   Conservation groups such as Oregon Wild are planning to sue over Reclamation’s   current operations, which they say will short salmon in a year predicted to have a large fall run.

   In the meantime, Stuntebeck described early season irrigation demand as higher than average due to dry conditions, though he hopes demand will wane as soon as irrigators get caught up.

   Stuntebeck said they’re trying to educate water users on how best to calculate their usage, and how to conserve water.

   With a declared drought, uncertain federal mandates and a series of legal actions, the Klamath Basin waterscape could certainly be a complicated one this summer.

    dschwartz@heraldandnews  . com  



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