Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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March 10, 2009
Klamath Water Users Association reaction to announcement on delay in water deliveries
Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) today expressed its concern regarding the March 9th announcement by the Bureau of Reclamation that water operations for the Klamath Project may be delayed to mid-April with deliveries in late-April. “This uncertainty could create real problems for family farmers and ranchers, our employees, businesses, and the communities we live in,” said KWUA President Luther Horsley.
Reclamation’s announcement states that runoff forecasts are for 71 percent of average, but that Upper Klamath Lake is about a foot below minimum lake elevations identified in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008 biological opinion for endangered suckers (average depth of Upper Klamath Lake is 8’). 1725 cubic feet per second (cfs) is required to be released at Iron Gate Dam under the 2002 biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service for coho salmon. “We are presently looking at a regulatory drought of uncertain duration and magnitude, based on uncoordinated biological opinions, said Greg Addington, KWUA Executive Director. “The process remains broken.”
Under the two separate biological opinions, it is possible for there to be enough or more than enough water for irrigation, but not necessarily at the right time. According to Addington, “There are scenarios, not necessarily this year, where we could have plenty of water available, but have to shut off for two weeks in mid-summer. That doesn’t work.” Addington added that Reclamation continues to work with the Services (National Marine Fisheries Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service) to complete coordinated biological opinions, but as of current, only USFWS has completed a new opinion in that process.
Horsley said the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement would avoid these types of problems. The KBRA is a proposed multiparty agreement that would greatly improve certainty of water deliveries, timing of deliveries and address habitat restoration and other issues throughout the Klamath Basin. “If we were operating under a fully implemented KBRA right now, we would know what we have. It may be less than full demand, but we would have a program in place so that regardless of location in the Project, individual irrigators would have water through the season or have agreed not to irrigate for compensation.”
Addington echoed that a key difference is predictability. “Klamath Lake most likely would not be drawn down to where it is today if we were under the KBRA. There would have been a sensible, integrated operation before now based on management for fish, wildlife and irrigation.”
Klamath Irrigation District Manager Dave Solem said “We are again moving into uncharted territory. It is inevitable that there will be more demand on the irrigation system with a late start. The Project water users and districts will have to work cooperatively to stay above monthly lake level minimums throughout the summer.” Horsley added, “Our plea to Project irrigators is to be as conservative as possible when deliveries start. Irrigators as a whole in the Project are very efficient with their water use. We really need people to get creative and tighten up where possible. By doing this, we create the most likely scenario for making it through the rest of the season without additional disruptions”.
KWUA is pleased that the Klamath County Commissioners have sought a drought declaration from the Governor and ask that he act on this request in an expedited manner. “A drought declaration won’t solve our problem, but it will provide increased flexibility with regard to groundwater use and can help in many cases,” said Addington.
These water delivery restrictions apply only to those within Reclamation’s Klamath Project, primarily those who irrigate from the Klamath River system which amounts to over 180,000 acres. The total water supply that will be available for Project irrigation and wildlife refuge use through the season is uncertain.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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