Commissioners declare another drought for
conditions in the Klamath Basin on track to be worse than
they were last year, the Klamath County Commissioners
declared a drought for the Klamath Basin on Tuesday.
The wintry mix
of precipitation that rolled into the basin as the
declaration was made was a dose of cruel irony.
precipitation has been slightly higher this winter than
last, the extra snow hasnít been enough to make up for
exceedingly dry soils left over from water year 2020, which
will soak up a significant portion of the snow as it melts.
forecasts to Upper Klamath Lake are some of the lowest in
decades, with 430,000 acre-feet of water expected to enter
the lake between March and September at a 50% confidence
level from the Natural Resources Conservation Serviceís
March 1 basin outlook report. Thatís 67% of Upper Klamath
Lakeís average streamflow for that time period.
130,000 acre-feet are expected to be allocated from Upper
Klamath Lake to the Klamath Project for this growing season,
a number even lower than last year and only enough to
satisfy about a third of project demand.
monitoring data from the
U.S. Geological Survey, Upper Klamath Lakeís surface is
currently more than a foot of water lower than it was at
this time last year, which will make it extremely difficult
for the Bureau of Reclamation to satisfy lake level
requirements outlined in the Endangered Species Act, let
alone provide water to the Project.
will send the drought declaration letter to the Oregon Water
Resources Department and Oregon Office of Emergency
Management, requesting that Governor Kate Brown declare a
drought at the state level with the federal government.
That will allow
water users in the basin to apply for drought relief
programs through federal and state agencies.
ďIt opens the
door on relief programs through the U.S. Department of
Agriculture, as well as OWRD,Ē said Mark Johnson, deputy
director of Klamath Water Users Association.
would be able to exercise ground water rights in lieu of
surface water rights to still be able to irrigate crops or
KWUA is also working on securing additional funding for the
Klamath Project Drought Response Agency, which pays
irrigators to idle some land and reduce demand for water in
Upper Klamath Lake. Congress passed legislation last October
that clarified what those funds could be used for,
effectively freeing up the $10 million pot of money set
aside for the Basin several years prior.
things are looking especially bad for Lower Klamath and Tule
Lake National Wildlife Refuges, which rely on Project water
deliveries to maintain habitat for millions of birds a year
on the Pacific flyway. Last year, a lack of water deliveries
to those wetlands during the hottest part of the year played
a part in the refugesí worst avian botulism outbreaks in
decades. Johnson said thereís not much the Project can do to
satisfy refuge water needs when so little water is going to
farms to begin with.
ďAt this point
itís looking pretty bleak for refuges, and us as well,Ē
the best-case scenario for the next couple months would be
multiple serious storms and colder-than-normal temperatures.
Ideally, storms would deliver snow to the mountains and rain
to the basin, which could give irrigators a head start by
building up soil moisture before they plant crops.
With low to
moderate La Nina conditions still present in the Pacific
Ocean, a spring like that isnít out of the question. But
Johnson said basin irrigators are nonetheless preparing for
two dismal water years in a row.
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