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Drought? Lake's nearly full and rising

 May 6, 2005


Upper Klamath Lake was brimful Thursday, prompting PacifiCorp to issue an advisory about the possibility of localized flooding along the lakeshore. The federal government has ordered water to be released from the lake in case more rains come.

The Klamath Basin may be in the grips of drought, but the timing of the recent rainy spell means the Bureau of Reclamation will have to spill water from Upper Klamath Lake in case the wet trend continues.

Bureau officials worked to conserve water for months during the recent mild winter, and had managed to nearly fill Upper Klamath Lake when the weather turned decidedly wet last week.

Now there's no room to store the extra water coming in, said Cecil Lesley, chief of water operations for the Klamath Reclamation Project.

Flows at Link River Dam were increased this week to 3,500 cubic feet per second, or more than five times the amount of water that was being released last week.

PacifiCorp, which operates the Link River Dam under a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, issued an advisory Thursday that localized flooding around Upper Klamath Lake is possible if heavy rains occur during the next few weeks while the lake is brimful.

People who have property alongside the lake may want to take precautionary measures, the company said, particularly since the weather forecast calls for more rain over the coming weekend.

"PacifiCorp has been in consultation with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation about lake levels and expected inflows," the company said in a statement Thursday. "The (Bureau of Reclamation) has taken this information into consideration and directed (us) to increase flows at Link River Dam."

Releasing more water from Link River Dam will create space in Upper Klamath Lake to hold heavy inflow that might result from rainstorms.


Upper Klamath Lake is considered to be full when the water level reaches 4,143.3 feet above sea level. By early this week, the lake was within an inch of its maximum level.

In some places, that leaves only a few inches of dike to keep water from spilling onto low-lying property beside the lake.

Officials are concerned about the possibility of strong winds affecting the lake level. A strong, sustained wind can push water from one side of the lake toward the other, cause the surface elevation to vary by several inches.

The prospect of the lake overtopping its banks comes less than two months after Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared a drought emergency in Klamath County.

Kulongoski's drought declaration came in mid-March, when the Klamath Basin was suffering a stubborn drought that left a mountain snowpack measuring about half of average.

The Bureau of Reclamation, hoping to conserve as much water as possible for the benefit of irrigators and fish, took measures during the winter and early spring to curtail flows in the Klamath River and hold water back in Upper Klamath Lake.

By late April, it appeared the lake would come close to filling. That's when the rains started coming, swelling streams and rivers feeding into Upper Klamath Lake.

The Williamson River, for instance, was flowing at 1,310 cubic feet per second Thursday at a stream gauging station near Chiloquin. That's still below average for this time of year, but much higher than the 865 cfs flowing in the river only two weeks ago.

As a result, the remaining space in the lake filled quickly, and left no room to spare for any sudden inflows that might result from new storms.

Releasing more water from Upper Klamath Lake will boost flows in the Klamath River, where fishery interests have been concerned about low flows affecting runs of salmon, including the threatened coho.

The rains come as welcome relief for irrigators, Lesley said. But while the rains have been enough to top off the lake, they haven't been enough to wipe out the effects of several dry months over the winter.

"The wet weather has slowed down the use of irrigation water, and we don't expect extensive irrigation in the Project for probably another two weeks, which is well into our regular irrigation season," Lesley said.

"However, we just received the first of May (streamflow) forecast, and it still calls for dry conditions, as far as inflow to the lake is concerned."

Lesley said the rains have also brought very little relief to the Project's east side, where irrigators rely on Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir.

"Both of them have received minor amounts of water," Lesley said. "Clear Lake is still extremely dry, and we've seen some increases in Gerber, but it still won't be a full supply."

Falls revealed: Here's how to see them

The falls for which Klamath Falls is named largely disappeared 85 years ago when the California-Oregon Power Co. built a dam on Link River, the outlet of Upper Klamath Lake.

Remnants of the falls can still be seen, however, particularly in relatively wet years when Upper Klamath Lake fills and extra water is released from the dam, as is the case this week.

To see the falls, take the Link River Trail from its southern trailhead, near the Favell Museum. Hike slightly more than a half-mile up the trail, to the point where the north half of the trail is closed due to construction work.

Several unmarked paths lead down to the river's edge. Thick brush and blackberry brambles can make the going difficult. The north half of the trail is closed to keep the public away from the construction zone where a new fish ladder was recently installed.

- By Todd Kepple






Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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