Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Lake level tied to new formula
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is testing a new
formula for managing water supplies in Upper Klamath
Lake, hoping that increased flexibility will help
the agency avoid predicaments that sometimes result
from rigid water level requirements.
Instead, the Bureau's
lake level targets will slide up and down according
to how much water is flowing into the lake as the
The new formula has the
approval of irrigators and fishery interests, as
well as the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is
responsible for protecting endangered fish in the
Klamath River Basin.
If the old lake level
requirements - designed to protect endangered
suckers in the lake - were in effect right now, the
lake would be about an inch below what would be
needed to achieve the end-of-April target.
"We would be cranking
back on irrigation in the Project, or pumping (from
wells) like mad," Lesley said.
The new way of
calculating the desired level of Upper Klamath Lake
has been approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service,
and is being tested this summer. After this
irrigation season, the Bureau and the Fish and
Wildlife Service will evaluate the process.
The new system doesn't
have the pitfalls that the old "stair step" method
did, said Curt Mullis, manager of the Klamath Falls'
Fish and Wildlife Service office.
Problems developed when
inflow failed to meet predictions. When that
happened last June, the Bureau determined at one
point it would have to shut down irrigation for at
least five days in order to make a minimum lake
Using the new system
will allow even more flexibility than the make-shift
Band-Aid put on the system last summer, Bureau
Inflow to the lake this
month has been much lower than expected, despite a
spate of rain in the last week, Lesley said. With
the changes, the lake level target now adjusts to
the unexpected inflow changes - mimicking nature.
Dan Keppen, executive
director of the Klamath Water Users Association,
said the new system should avoid the drama of last
Glen Spain, of the
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's
Associations, said now there won't be the rapid
changes that could cause havoc for irrigators as the
Bureau first tries to meet lake level and flow
requirements down the Klamath River.
"It makes sense for the fish because this is how natural systems work - they fluctuate a bit," Spain said.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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