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OWRD talks drought, water rights in Basin

by HOLLY DILLEMUTH, Herald and News, February 11, 2018

“Things are not looking good,” said Tom Paul, special assistant to the director of Oregon Water Resources on Wednesday, lamenting the sunny, warm conditions outside as attendees listened inside the Chiloquin Community Center about what to expect water-wise this spring and summer.

Paul and OWRD officials detailed estimated drought conditions for the Klamath Basin for 2018, and answered questions surrounding water rights and outlining how the state addresses calls to fulfill water rights.

OWRD officials hosted three interactive meetings for local residents last week, meeting in Fort Klamath on Tuesday, Chiloquin on Wednesday, and Sprague River on Friday. The meetings also urgently addressed pending drought in the region, which has yet to be officially declared, but is expected soon.

“At this point at least, we don’t have a path mapped out,” Paul said to some 30 attendees. “Part of the reasons for these meetings is to get indication from the water users. And when I say that, it’s all water users. It’s not one group or another. This is a Basin issue.”

Jason Miner, natural resources adviser to Gov. Kate Brown, also attended the meeting, with plans to take concerns of local residents straight to the governor.

Miner said potential drought in the Klamath Basin is at the “forefront” of Brown’s mind, and it’s his job to keep her up to date on the issues.

Brown is planning a visit to the Klamath Basin within the next couple of months, likely related to the pending declaration of drought by Klamath County Commissioners anticipated for consideration this week.

“The governor has directed that state agencies do what they can to provide assistance,” Paul said, in/when the event that a drought declaration is made.

Ivan Gall, OWRD’s administrator for the field services division, led attendees though a crash course in water rights in the state of Oregon, sharing that waters in the state are publicly owned but rights to use the water are granted through applications.

“We don’t have water rights crafted like (the Klamath Basin) anywhere else in the state,” Gall added, drawing a response from the crowd.

“Lucky us,” a man from the crowd said, drawing slight laughter from the crowd.

Gall said Klamath County has one of the largest groundwater resources in the state, second to Deschutes County.

“You really do sit upon a rich groundwater resource,” Gall said. “The challenge there is the groundwater is connected to surface water, so that puts some constraints on things.”

An attendee also asked why water was shut off to some areas in the Upper Basin region in 2017 despite the good water year.

Gall encouraged anyone with concerns about a water call to contact Watermaster Dani Watson or any of the OWRD staff for clarification.

“I don’t want you getting upset, I don’t want you being confused,” Gall said, referring attendees to check out the OWRD’s website to keep track of water resources.

Dani Watson, District 17 watermaster for Klamath County, also gave a refresher on water right calls and how they are determined by the state.

“We’ll go measure, actually get in the stream and actually measure the darn thing,” Watson said.

OWRD staff measures to see if there is enough water to fulfill a full water right, she said.

“If there isn’t, then we start moving up the stream until we can actually get the full water right in the system. So we would start with the most junior water user and work our way toward the earlier dates until we could actually fulfill that senior water user’s water right. If it’s an instream claim, then we have to measure. There are numerous in-stream claims associated with each river, and we are mandated to measure the flow at the bottom of that instream claim. As an example for the Williamson (River), we have to measure the lowest point on the Williamson for the claim.”

OWRD staff spend a lot of time in the water, Watson said, measuring flow levels.

Gauges help keep Watson and staff tuned in to in-stream flows and potential for water calls, but do not serve to regulate water on their own.

“When we see a gauge start getting close to an in-stream claim limit, we start to really go out and physically measuring,” Watson added. “They’re simply like a flag warning for us.”

To learn more, visit www.oregon.gov/owrd.

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Two Klamath Falls wells subject to call by project

Two city of Klamath Falls well stations remain subject to regulation if a call for water is made by the Klamath Project this summer, according to Ivan Gall, administrator of the field services division of Oregon Water Resources Department.

Gall made the announcement during a question and answer exchange between Councilman Bill Adams, who attended Wednesday's OWRD meeting in Chiloquin.

Adams questioned Gall on the past impact to Wocus and Conger well stations, and the potential for impact this year.

“In 2013 and 2014, the Klamath Project and the Bureau of Reclamation districts called on the in-flows to Upper Klamath Lake,” Gall said. “That also includes waters, all tributaries flows to the lake itself.

“Two of the city of Klamath Falls wells met the criteria for regulation under that call, because they're hydraulically connected to the lake,” Gall added.

“But you haven't proven that,” Adams said.

“We have,” Gall said, refuting Adams' claim, “to the extent that the state believes and the science supports that.”

“Two of the city's wells remain subject to regulation if another call by the project (is made),” Gall said.

No call by the project has been made by the Klamath Project at this time that would take any action.



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