Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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City of Klamath (Falls) told to shut off wells. Tribes, Project make call on water; Sky Lakes, OIT may be affected
The city of Klamath Falls was told to shut down some municipal drinking water wells to satisfy the calls from the Klamath Reclamation Project, which serves 1,200 farms straddling the Oregon-California border, water resources spokeswoman Racquel Rancier said.However, the city intends to contest the order to shut down two wells, saying state law prioritizes human consumption, City Manager Nathan Cherpeski said. One of the wells is high in manganese and is only used as an auxiliary. The other serves the northern end of the city, including Sky Lakes Medical Center and Oregon Institute of Technology. Klamath Falls must ensure critical infrastructure, such as the hospital, maintains access to water.
Cherpeski said the city is hiring an expert to evaluate how much impact drawing water from that well has on Upper Klamath Lake, the primary reservoir for the Klamath Project. He said the well is only 180 feet inside a 1-mile zone around the lake where wells can be shut down to satisfy water rights.The city has never had to impose water rationing, and the City Council is likely to discuss the issue, he added. Future demands by water users could affect other city wells.
Klamath Falls Mayor Todd Kellstrom said of the order, “We don’t know what to respond to just yet. We’re assembling information,” he said, noting the city was “dusting off” old reports on the history of its wells.Kellstrom said the situation is complicated for the city, as it is exempt from some calls because the wells are for domestic drinking water. According to Kyle Gorman, Oregon Water Resources Department region manager for the south central part of the state, which includes the Klamath Basin, in the eyes of the state, there is no difference between regulating a city and regulating an irrigator.
“From our perspective it’s not different,” he said. “No.”“I don’t want to be an alarmist,” Kellstrom said, but the city is working with other local entities to find the best plan of action if, or when, wells could be turned off.
Reservoirs at 60 percentMeanwhile, Klamath Water Users Association Director Greg Addington said that even with the water demand and groundwater pumping, some farmers would not get water this year. The drought has left reservoirs with no more than 60 percent of the water needed to serve the project.
Rancier said watermasters are evaluating the situation on rivers flowing through the Klamath Tribes’ former reservation, where last year the demand for water forced ranchers to stop irrigating pastures.Gorman received a letter from the Klamath Tribes earlier this week making calls for water on “various locations” throughout the Upper Klamath Basin.
Gorman said the locations included:• Tributaries of the Upper Williamson River;
• Wood River and Crooked Creek (a tributary of the Wood River);• Sprague River and Upper Sprague River.
Representatives of the tribes and ranchers irrigating from those rivers did not immediately return telephone calls for comment.The Tribes’ right dates to time immemorial, and the project’s right dates to 1905.
This is the second straight year of drought in Klamath County. Last year’s drought prompted ranchers to sign an agreement with the Tribes on sharing during times of scarcity and improving fish habitat. Legislation to fund aspects of the agreement is pending in the U.S. Senate.So far this week, the Klamath watermaster and staff have sent regulation notices to about 200 Upper Klamath Basin irrigators with any water rights junior to 1905, Gorman said.
Thursday and Friday water resources department staff are checking with landowners to make sure lands with the junior priority date have not been irrigated. Staff also will be watching the streams this week and next to see if shutting off those junior to 1905 affect streamflow.“We’ll see and monitor effects of regulation this week and the beginning of next week to see how streamflows respond,” Gorman said Thursday afternoon. “We’ll make a determination on how far to regulate off to meet the tribal instream right.”
Looking aheadGorman said the immediate future for irrigation in the Klamath Basin will somewhat depend on the weather. If it rains and streamflows improve, it could mean turning irrigators’ water back on. However, it being the second week of June, streamflows typically reduce as summer continues. “We don’t anticipate any large changes in streamflows,” Gorman said. “We’ll regulate and watch how things go. I don’t anticipate any significant changes.”
— H&N reporter Samantha Tipler contributed to this Associated Press report.
This spring 2014 photo of the A Canal shows the effects of drought in Klamath Falls. The water shortage may be more dire than originally anticipated after the Klamath Tribes called in their rights Thursday and the city began to consider shutting off wells.
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Page Updated: Sunday June 15, 2014 12:22 AM Pacific
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