Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
A full lake is good for fish and farmers
Coordination by federal agencies helps to keep water level up
By JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 3/29/12
Despite a relatively dry winter, Upper Klamath Lake is brimming — it’s more than two feet higher than during this time in 2010 — and that is no accident, local water officials say.
Improved coordination among federal agencies and local irrigators has allowed the Bureau of Reclamation to retain more water in the lake, said Jason Phillips, manager of the BOR’s Klamath Basin area office.
“There’s no way that would have happened 10 years ago,” he said last week.
Retaining water in the lake, which is Basin irrigators’ primary source of water, has been particularly critical this year because inflows have been well below average. Inflows were the lowest on record for the month of December and the sixth lowest on record for January, Phillips said.
It’s likely all irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project will receive water at the beginning of the growing season, but it’s unknown if there will be enough water for full irrigation deliveries throughout the season, Phillips said.
Competing demands for Upper Klamath Lake water can stretch the resource to its limit in dry years. Certain amounts of water must be held in lake for endangered sucker and sent downriver for endangered coho salmon; irrigators receive what water is left. In 2010, there was insufficient water and thousands of acres of farmland were left dry.
To avoid a similar situation this year, there has been an “unprecedented amount of coordination” among federal agencies, said Irma Lagomarsino, Northern California supervisor of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s southwest region.
Reclamation officials worked with PacifiCorp, which operates Link River Dam, and the Marine Fisheries Service almost daily to ensure no more water than necessary was sent downstream, Phillips said. Due to reduced outflows, Upper Klamath Lake has about 170,000 acre feet of water more than at the same time in 2010, he said.
A new biological opinion, the standard that dictates how water in the Klamath River is managed for species, has helped officials fill the lake. That opinion, issued in 2010, reduces the amount of water that must be sent downriver in the winter, saving more water for fish and irrigators come spring, Lagomarsino said.
Phillips agreed the new biological opinion has been key to filling the lake during a dry year.
“It makes a lot of sense,” he said of the biological opinion, “because a full lake in the spring is good for farmers, suckers and coho.”
Agreement helped build bridge between agencies
The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a controversial water settlement that has been divisive for some, has helped build bridges between agencies that manage water for irrigators and fish, officials say.
Bureau of Reclamation officials say they have been able to fill Upper Klamath Lake this year because of increased coordination with other federal agencies, a result of relationships built while developing the KBRA, said Kevin Moore, spokesman for the Bureau’s Klamath Basin area office.
“Due to the KBRA negotiations, the amount of communication has increased greatly,” he said. “There has been a lot of trust developed through that process.”
Pablo Arroyave, who managed the Bureau’s Klamath Basin area office before being promoted to deputy director of the Bureau’s Mid-Pacific Region in 2008, spoke to Basin irrigators at an annual water users meeting last week. It was unimaginable, he said, for irrigators and federal water officials to work this harmoniously 10, or even five, years ago.
Irma Lagomarsino, Northern California supervisor of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s southwest region, said there has been a “cultural shift” in how irrigation officials and water agencies work together since the groups worked together to negotiate the KBRA.
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Page Updated: Friday March 30, 2012 01:14 AM Pacific
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