Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Klamath River subject of climate study
Scientists will examine effects of climate on water supplies
By SARA HOTTMAN, Herald and News Aug. 4, 2011
A team of state and federal scientists will research the impact of climate change on the Klamath River in Oregon and California, which officials say will help stakeholders develop a strategy to deal with shifting water availability.
“There are competing interests in every watershed, particularly in Klamath,” said David Raff, basin studies coordinator for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.“ The droughts in 2001 and 2010 demonstrate there are significant competing interests in water there.”
Stakeholders in Klamath River water include irrigators on the federal Klamath Reclamation Project who pull their water from Upper Klamath Lake, which feeds the Klamath River, as well as the federal agencies that protect endangered fish in the water bodies and the tribes that consider them sacred.
Through drought years, irrigators have had to go without surface water as federal agencies preserved water for fish habitats.
The two-year, $1.955 million study will explore the potential effect of climate change on water supplies for agriculture and fish, then ultimately identify strategies to cope with those impacts in hopes of balancing all stakeholders’ needs.
“There’s no limit to the types of strategies that can be explored,” he said, mentioning aquifer storage, above-ground storage, or conservation measures.
Scientists widely believe that higher global temperatures — colloquially called climate change or global warming — are caused by too much carbon entering the atmosphere, both trapping heat and changing the atmosphere’s chemical composition.
Loss of storage
In a watershed like the Klamath River Basin, higher temperatures could result in less snowpack, the area’s method of natural water storage. Less snowpack would affect snow melt into water bodies and underground aquifers, reducing available water for irrigators and fish.
Half the funding for the study came from U.S. Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART program, a method to implement measures in the Secure Water Act, said Peter Soeth, with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The 2009 Secure Water Act is intended to give state and federal agencies authority to plan for the impact of climate change, among other threats, on water supplies.
The Oregon and California water resource departments will pay the other half, Soeth said. The departments jointly sought the federal funding, which was awarded in a competitive application process.
Previous study found climate change will reduce winter snowpack
Researchers with the state and federal WaterSMART basin climate change study are approaching it with a clean slate, gathering data before drawing conclusions, said David Raff, basin studies coordinator for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
But Climate Leadership Initiative, a Eugene based group led by Langell Valley rancher Roger Hamilton, has already presented its ideas about how climate change will affect Klamath Basin producers.
Gradual changes in climate will begin to make an impact in about 30 years, the group said in November during a presentation at Oregon Institute of Technology.
Among their findings:
• Temperatures in the Klamath Basin will increase nearly four degrees by 2040. Summers will be drier and winters will be wetter. Higher temperatures mean winter snows will become winter rains, diminishing snowpack by 60 percent in the region.
• With diminished snowpack, underground aquifers will not be as replenished by snowmelt. Groundwater will become a scare resource.
• Losing snowpack, natural storage, could be devastating to agriculture, tribes, refuges, and other groups that depend on surface and groundwater replenishing itself each year.
Hamilton, senior policy analyst for the Climate Leadership Initiative, at the time said that over the next three decades growers could work to reduce their carbon emissions to help slow climate change.
“The bad news is there are impacts,” Hamilton said in the fall. “The good news is we’re doing it to ourselves.”
Conserving water and energy through low-flow irrigation, irrigation sensors that track how much moisture a field needs, and solar panel power could help mitigate climate change, researchers said.
Many local growers, especially the larger operations, are already taking such steps both to save money on operations and use environmentally friendly practices.
Study satisfies part of KBRA
The study’s conclusions will fulfill a small section of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which says signatories — including Oregon, California, U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation — will work to identify and mitigate the effects of climate change, said David Raff, basin studies coordinator for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
“It’s separate from the KBRA,” Raff said. “But it’s meant to be complimentary to that activity.”
In the agreement, lead parties are called on to track climate change impacts in the Klamath Basin in order to “collaboratively respond to climatic change in a manner that is to protect basin interests.”
The $1 billion agreement signed last year is an effort to establish sustainable water supplies and affordable power rates for irrigators, help the Klamath Tribes acquire a 92,000-acre parcel of private timberland, and fund habitat restoration in the region.
Page Updated: Monday August 08, 2011 02:25 AM Pacific
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