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Counting every last drop

April 6, 2005 By HOLLY OWENS


Some irrigators outside of the Klamath Reclamation Project are optimistic this water year, while most still need late-season precipitation to provide enough water for a full season.

The outlook varies for irrigation districts in Lake, Modoc and Siskiyou counties:

South Fork Irrigation District

Water users in the South Fork Irrigation District near Likely, Calif., are looking at a dry year with 14,000 acre-feet of water in West Valley Reservoir, an irrigation source that has a 23,000 acre foot capacity for the district, which covers approximately 12,900 acres.

"Right now (March 28) I've only got 14,000 acre foot of water in the reservoir," said Jerry Wendland, water master for the district. "So we have to shut our diversion ditch off (from the South Fork of the Pit River) on about the 15th of April, and that will probably put another 1,000 foot of water out of there."


Water users in the district grow mostly hay and some rice with most of the water going to hay production. There are 11 water users in the district who will begin utilizing water from the reservoir on the first of May.

"It's not good. I'm 3,000 acre-feet below West Valley reservoir - below what I had last year," Wendland said. "Last year was the best year, and I've been with this outfit for four years. It was the best year we'd had."

Water users in the South Fork Irrigation District also use some private wells and a well managed by the district.

"We'll probably use our district well for the big share of the season to conserve our water that's in the reservoir," Wendland said. "It doesn't contribute that much, but it's a big help."


Wendland said the irrigators in the district have managed with less water but said it isn't easy.

"We've gotten by before," Wendland said. "It's just a lot tougher. They could run out before the season's out."

Big Valley Mutual Water Company

The outlook is fairly optimistic for the Big Valley Mutual Water Company. Irrigators with Big Valley use water from Roberts Reservoir and the South Fork of the Pit River to irrigate about a thousand acres of mainly alfalfa and pasture grass.

Peter Gerig, who regulates the headgate for Big Valley, said flow into the reservoir last week looked good with the recent stormy weather.


"For right at this time of year it's running in pretty good because we've had storms down here the last few days," Gerig said.

Gerig said when he checked on the reservoir around March 28 it was down 28 inches from running out of the spill way. He estimated the reservoir, which has a capacity of 5,500 acre-feet, was approximately three-quarters full.

"Last year it came to about a foot of filling," Gerig said. "I don't know as it will fill, but we're not going to be in too bad a shape with the reservoir."

For now, Big Valley water users are waiting on the weather.


"It's not looking too bad at the present time," Gerig said. "We'll see what this weather does. Right now our runoff is running really good. But we don't know what the weather's going to do."

But there's still time for Roberts Reservoir to fill.

"Normally we don't take any out before July," Gerig said.

Lakeview Water Users

Lakeview Water Users are hoping for some late season precipitation during a year that has seen little rain and snow. The district covers 11,514 acres with 126 irrigators drawing water from Drews and Cottonwood reservoirs for hay and pasture.

"It doesn't look very good," said George Cobian, Lakeview Water Users manager. "We have about 40 percent of our water.

"We hope we can get at least 50 percent."

Timing and weather could change the outlook a bit for the district.

"We are in the time of year where we can get a big storm," said David Poe, Lake County Water Master.

Drews Reservoir, which holds approximately 62,500 acre-feet, was at under 15,000 acre-feet last week said Cobian, while Cottonwood, which holds about 9,300 acre-feet, had a little over 5,000.

Conditions this year are drier said Cobian. And with no snow pack to rely on, the irrigation season could be cut short.

"Last year we had a full irrigation season," Cobian said. "We'll be done in the middle of summer - first of August. Hopefully we can get there."

The district doesn't set a date for water deliveries, Cobian said, members call when they're ready for deliveries and he's hoping irrigators in the district won't need to start until after the first of May.

Hot Springs Valley

Irrigation District

Conditions for the Hot Springs Valley Irrigation District near Alturas are looking dry and irrigators are anticipating that there might not be enough water to last the entire irrigation season. The district draws water from Big Sage Reservoir which supplies water to approximately 30 irrigators for hay and pasture use.

"The reservoir that we store water in during the winter months is quite low," said Willy Hagge, a rancher and past director of the irrigation district. "We're looking at a short water year for this irrigation season."

"At Big Sage, in order to have a normal supply of water in the reservoir for a normal irrigation season, we need about 18,000 acre-feet," Hagge said. "As of March 12 there was 12,000 feet in the reservoir with no snowpack remaining in the mountains. It would take a pretty significant storm."

The additional runoff from storms could help, Hagge said, but relief from spring precipitation may not materialize.

"Although, there is still potential for a storm to come along and help us out. But it's pretty late in the season."

In order to make every drop of water count, Hagge said, communication between the irrigators and the district this year will be important.

"The biggest emphasis by the irrigation district will be for everyone in the district to do a tremendous amount of coordinating for water use," Hagge said. "So that we are very efficient in its use."

Butte Valley

Irrigation District

A combination of improvements, a new well and a completed pipeline system, within the Butte Valley Irrigation District are providing for an optimistic outlook for irrigators.

"I think we're OK. The water table is down a little bit, but the way winter has been, we're setting okay," said Joe Sammis, water master for the Butte Valley Irrigation District.

The irrigation season began last week in Butte Valley for the district's 20 water users. The district supplies water for 5,500 acres used to grow hay, grain and strawberry plants.

"We have a lot of nursery strawberries in the district," Sammis said. "They're all growing nursery strawberry plants and then hay and grain growers. We don't have any potatoes any more."

In previous years the district has had to deal with a dropping water table and dry wells. Last year the district added a new well to its system which went on line last fall. Piping throughout the district has helped the district meet irrigators' needs, too.

"The last two years we've had a few dry wells that have pulled down where we couldn't use them," Sammis said, "but our district now is all under pipeline. We're not running open ditches.

"It's worked, we're saving water and we're able to deliver water to all of our growers because of the pipelines. If we were still running open ditches we'd be in trouble."

Developing the network of pipelines to improve the Butte Valley Irrigation District didn't happen overnight.

"The district started putting pipe in in the '40s and just finished last year. Every grower in the district is on pipeline," Sammis said.

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