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OWRD, KWUA talk drought for Project water users

by Holly Dillemuth, Herald and News Feb 21, 2018

The mood was calm but somber Tuesday afternoon as Klamath Project irrigators gathered to learn more about the impact of drought conditions in the Klamath Basin from Oregon Water Resources Department and Klamath Water Users Association staff at the Klamath County Fairgrounds.

The gathering of dozens of irrigators took place only hours after Klamath County Commissioners Tuesday morning approved a request that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declare drought in the Basin, though it could take up to two or three weeks before a declaration is finalized by the state, according to OWRD officials. A federal drought declaration is anticipated this summer.

Official estimations of forecasted water levels are due to be released by the Bureau of Reclamation March 1, with another forecast planned for April 1. Each will determine any adjustments made to water allocations, according to Scott White, executive director of the KWUA.

But so far, the irrigation season for the Basin, including the Klamath Project, isn’t looking good.

As of Feb. 14, the snowpack is 28 percent of normal.

“We’re not in a good spot with the snow pack right now,” White said. “The snowpack is what gets us through the summer as it melts off, and those in-flows remain consistent coming in to the lake.

“Please keep in mind we have lake levels from a biological opinion that need to be met,” White added. “We have an injunction that’s been placed upon us where more water is required to go downstream as a result of litigation brought by downstream tribes last year.”

White said there’s a potential for 100,000 fewer acre feet of water allocated for irrigators this year, between satisfying the biological opinion and court-ordered injunction flows, on top of a drought.

“I’m a praying man,” White said.

“I would ask all of you, if you guys are praying men and women, we need to start praying for this water year. It’s going to be, I’m going to say, interesting,” White added.

White’s emotion wasn’t lost on longtime Basin irrigator Luther Horsley, who is planning his 2018 crops more like he might have in 2001.

Instead of organic alfalfa, he’s planting winter rye in hopes of utilizing soil moisture and mitigating the impact of the drought this summer.

“It’s emotional for all of us,” Horsley said, following the meeting.

“I want to transfer to the next generation,” he added, noting that can be hard to do without water.

Horsley is still expecting a need for “dynamic” adjustments to his irrigation, and at the same time, hoping for the best.

“Maybe we’ll a great season, things always work out,” Horsley added, “even if they’re not quite what you want.”

There are steps irrigators can take now to prepare for applying for drought emergency permits to mitigate impacts from the drought, according to OWRD officials.

“Once the governor issues the drought declaration, then it’s after that time that people can come to the watermaster’s office here and apply for drought emergency permits,” said Kyle Gorman, of OWRD.

Permits allow irrigators to use water where the primary source is unavailable, Gorman said, due to drought conditions.

Dani Watson, watermaster for Klamath County, said irrigators wanting to get a head start can come down to the watermaster’s office and fill out the paperwork needed to apply for the permit.

“It can’t be filed (yet) but you can get your paperwork filled out,” Watson said.

Klamath Project water users can begin the process of applying for a drought application through the watermaster’s office at the Klamath County Government Center.

A meeting hosted by Bureau of Reclamation with a time and place to be determined is planned for March 7, according to Commissioner Donnie Boyd.

“Personally, I’d like to see about five times this many people here,” Boyd said, referencing the upcoming meeting.

“To be quite honest with you, that would upset the Bureau, and that would make me pretty happy.”



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