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Last year's anxious hours unlikely to return

Published April 8, 2004

This year's water forecast should forestall last year's nightmare of a near-shutdown of the Klamath Reclamation Project. The shutdown didn't actually happen, though it threw local irrigators into six or eight hours of turmoil after the water level in Upper Klamath Lake fell too low.

Thanks to local Bureau of Reclamation officials, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and efforts in Washington, D. C., the shutoff was averted.

The problem happened because the Basin got more water from precipitation than expected. That's right, when it comes to the Klamath Basin, more water is less, under some circumstances.

The extra inflow was enough to change water year classification, which, under the matrix used by the Bureau of Reclamation, meant more water had to go for endangered and threatened fish species, and less became available for irrigation.

The irony last year was that a newly enacted 10-year approach to water management was supposed to avoid such confusion. It had been adopted in the aftermath of the Klamath Project's shutdown in 2001.

Last year's near-shutoff occurred because the annual inflow figures were close to the dividing line between water year classifications, and thus it didn't take much "extra" water to change classifications.

That looks unlikely this year.

About 420,000 acre-feet of water is expected to flow into Upper Klamath Lake - the Project's primary reservoir. That's about 100,000 more acre-feet than last year, though still below average. It's also in the mid-range of the classification, so is unlikely to change. That should give everyone more certainty about the water supply.

The best answer for the Basin's water ills, of course, is to find ways to increase water availability and storage, rather than the more abstract, but important, designation of water years. This includes pursuing such projects as Long Lake and Barnes Ranch for storage and wetlands.

Meanwhile, water management in the Basin comes down to parceling out meager supplies as best it can. We think the Bureau's efforts reflect this, despite last summer's anxious hours.

The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board, which consists of Publisher John Walker, Editor Tim Fought, City Editor Todd Kepple and Opinion Editor Pat Bushey.

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