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Set up for another train wreck?

Tri-County Courier 12/30/03 Kehn Gibson, staff writer.

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the Bureau of Reclamation and the NOAA Fisheries continue to rigidly adhere to a 'below average' water year type, releasing a lot of water over Iron Gate Dam in November and December and resulting in a violation in the required level of Upper Klamath Lake Nov. 30.

UKL level violated in November; Bureau and NMFS still refuse to reconsult

The Klamath Basin has notched 83 percent of its average annual precipitation since the water year began Oct. 1, and more is coming.

A second storm system is expected in the Basin   Wednesday afternoon, bringing another heavy snow and packing the upper Basin with what it needs most--water.

Yet the federal agencies responsible for managing the waters in the Klamath Basin continue to behave in lockstep with their 2003 Operations Plan, dumping water over Iron Gate Dam to meet downstream requirements set for a below average water year.

The down stream flow levels caused the Bureau of Reclamation to violate the required level of Upper Klamath Lake on Nov. 30 by half an inch.

If that seems minor, it must be remembered that a fear of violating the lake level by an inch on June 25 caused the Bureau's Klamath chief, Dave Sabo, to order the Klamath Project shut down for five days.

That was averted when the White House, not informed of the Bureau's intentions, intervened.

The rigid bureaucracy behind the adherence to the operations plan confounds Basin residents who must live by the results of these decisions.

"What the last month sheds light on is that we have to have a biological opinion that takes into account the entire watershed," said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. "All the focus right now is on Iron Gate Dam flows, and the National Academy of Sciences' report says that those flows do little to help the coho (salmon), and are not as important as other factors in the watershed."

Earl Danosky, head of the Tulelake Irrigation District, put it bluntly, "Right now, they are managing (the Project) for a train wreck."

Klamath Basin irrigators have been asking the Bureau and the NMFS to reconsult in the biological opinion for nearly three months, yet have been denied, Danosky said. "They say there isn't enough time, "

Keppen has been told the same, yet he thinks there may be a softening of the federal stance after the 2004 growing season.

"I'm hearing they may reconsult after 2004,' Keppen said.  "They say they can't now because of several reasons, like required public comment periods."

Bureau officials were not available by telephone Monday.

Sabo did offer a press release last week, saying he had forged an agreement with NMFS to lower Iron Gate Dam releases to the January minimum requirement of 1,334 cfs at the dam.

Yet, with inflows into the lake continuing to stay below 1,000 cfs, it remains mathematically unlikely the lake will fill.






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