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Emotions run high as water dips lower

While visibly there is water sitting in the A canal, Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office-directed water flows from the canal’s headgates have been significantly reduced as of Monday morning, a move that essentially has shut off potential for deliveries until June 1.

Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office issued a notice to Klamath Project irrigators Monday stating a need to sustain Upper Klamath Lake levels as required by a federal court order means there isn’t enough water to go around before June 1. Reclamation will re-evaluate how much water is available as early as Friday.

“I want to sincerely thank all of the Project water users for the hard work, coordination, and cooperation that has brought us this far through the start of a very challenging year,” said Jeff Nettleton, manager of the Klamath Basin Area Office, in a letter to irrigators.


“We are almost to June, and with a little help from the rain that is occurring this week, I am hopeful that this will get a little easier soon.”

Laura Williams said of the 9,500 acre feet that Reclamation is borrowing from PacifiCorp, 7,000 acre feet will be used to fill up Copco reservoir. The remaining 2,500 acre feet is needed to help keep end of the month thresholds in Upper Klamath Lake in keeping with what is required in the 2013 biological opinion.

“We’re doing the very best we can, and unfortunately there’s not enough water to go around,” Williams said. “But we also must obey the court injunction and we must do the very best we can to meet the requirements of the 2013 biological opinion, and we’ve been doing the very best we can to get extra water to irrigators. I don’t know what else we can do.”

Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office said irrigators can also anticipate a total 6,000 acre feet for Klamath Project irrigators from eastside irrigators Langell Valley and Horsefly Irrigation Districts. The local office will re-evaluate how much water is available on Friday, but there are no guarantees for more water before June 1.

Klamath Water Users Association Executive Director Scott White declined to comment on the water from the eastside.

Klamath Water Users Association also believes that with some small changes to Klamath Project operations, including ramping down Link River flows to Biological Opinion minimums, that up to 5,500 acre-feet could be available to irrigators.

“That’s strictly out of Upper Klamath Lake,” White said.

“I feel like we should have access to the water that’s above the projected Biological Opinion thresholds, and currently we do not, even according to the Bureau’s modeling.”

White also said lake levels on Monday were high enough for irrigators to utilize water for irrigation. Reclamation still contends there is not enough to go around.

Pause or shutoff?

While Reclamation officials are calling the circumstances a “pause” of water, Klamath Water Users Association is calling the move a “shutoff,” and sees it that way.

“I don’t consider it a shutoff since they knew how much water was available and they chose to use it at a certain rate, and they got to the end,” Williams said.

Williams noted that eastside irrigation districts will also contribute water to Tulelake and Klamath Irrigation Districts.

“It is nowhere near as much water as anybody wants at this time of year, but it is what’s available,” Williams said.

White and representatives from Klamath Irrigation District do not agree.

“It cost many, many irrigators in the Klamath Project an opportunity to begin irrigating,” White said.

“Certainly we’re hopeful there’s more water for the remainder of the month, but we currently have no guarantees.”

Emotions running high

It is an emotional time, and it’s also a complex situation, with few answers for irrigators before the end of May.


Klamath Irrigation District expressed disappointment in the decision to “shut off” water to irrigators on Tuesday, as well as a belief that there is sufficient water for irrigators to use.

“We’re disappointed in Reclamation’s operational decision,” said Tyler Martin, watermaster for Klamath Irrigation District and new board member for Klamath Water Users Association. “We’ve been working closely with the Bureau and the month-to-date precipitation suggests we will have sufficient inflows to track with NRCS forecasts currently utilized in the 2013 BiOp (Biological Opinion).”

Reclamation is currently implementing the court-ordered dilution flows that resulted in 3,000 cubic feet per second in the Klamath River for 13 days, or roughly 50,000 acre feet.

Dilution flows were triggered by the Prevalence of Infection (POI) in the Klamath River and implementation of the flows began on May 8.

“Ironically, POI and spore concentrations dropped prior to implementing the flows,” White said in a news release. “Then POI increased when the dilution flows began. Family farms and ranches have suffered this month for another failed experiment and continued mismanagement of the water.”

Bureau of Reclamation officials agree with KWUA that science behind the dilution flows need to be re-evaluated, which is why they appealed to Judge William H. Orrick in April’s hearing in San Francisco.

But in the meantime, the federal agency has to follow it.

“We are following it because of the injunctive order by the court,” Williams said. “And we are following that what we have been required by the court to do.”

PacifiCorp spokesperson Bob Gravely acknowledged that 500 of the 9,500 acre feet being borrowed by Reclamation traveled downstream in error. Gravely said the amount could be made up in the next couple days. PacifiCorp has lent a total Reclamation 20,000 acre feet in total — the first instance with 10,500 acre feet that has been used by irrigators — and the second instance with 9,500 acre feet recently lent to Reclamation.

“We can lower our reservoirs by 20,000 acre feet, and by doing that, that sends water down the river,” Gravely said. “That’s 20,000 acre feet that the bureau doesn’t have to send out of the lake. What other obligations they have or who gets it when is not really our call.”




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