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Water bank needs 100,000 acre-feet

December 29, 2004


H&N Staff Writer

The federal government is taking applications from Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers who are willing to let their fields go dry next irrigation season.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials are required to have 100,000 acre-feet in their water bank coffers this year and could be relying heavily on land idling to do so.

Gary Baker, special projects officer for the Klamath Reclamation Project, said if Upper Klamath Lake doesn't fill, the break down of the water bank would be: 50,000 acre-feet from idling; 25,000 from ground water pumping; 10,000 from the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust in the upper Basin; and 15,000 from storage on national wildlife refuges.

"If the lake fills, it is a different story," he said.

With a full lake, the Bureau could utilize excess water, putting it into on-and-off Project storage, he said. That would reduce the reliance on idling and ground water pumping.

The Bureau considers the lake to be full when its surface is at 4,143.3 feet above sea level. The last time the lake hit that mark was in May 1996, but it skimmed being full when it hit 4,143.2 in late April and early May 2003, said Rae Olsen, Bureau spokeswoman.

Individuals, groups of individuals, partnerships and companies willing to forego irrigation of their lands can make appointments to meet with Bureau officials to talk about idling possibilities starting next Tuesday. Application is open to all surface water users above Keno Dam, including non-Project users, except those using federal lease land and lands under temporary surplus water contracts, according to a Bureau press release.

Other requirements include:

n Only complete fields of 20 contiguous acres are eligible.

n Fields need to have been irrigated with surface water in 2003 and 2004, or have been in one of the prior water bank programs.

n Fields irrigated with groundwater, but not included in past water banks, in 2003 or 2004 are not eligible.

Completed and signed applications are due to the Bureau by 4 p.m. Jan. 27.

This is the only time the Bureau will be taking applications for idling during the 2005 irrigation season, Baker said. Irrigation season typically runs from April through mid-October in the Basin.

The water bank is required by the National Marine Fisheries Service's 2002 biological opinion, a management guiding document, for the Project to increase Klamath River flows for threatened coho salmon. Baker said the water bank is still considered a pilot project because its make up can change greatly from year to year.

The first water bank was in 2003 and required 50,000 acre-feet, most of which came from ground water substitution, in which water users didn't use the normal Project irrigation supply and switched to ground water.

Ground water pumping, which was used last year and will be used this year, is different because participants can use Project water unless they are asked to switch to ground water, Baker said. They then can be asked to put some of the ground water into the Project's canal system.

Under the biological opinion, last year the Bureau was required to have a water bank of 75,000 acre-feet. Last year, 58,000 acre-feet came from ground water pumping, 12,000 from idling, 10,000 from KBRT and some water was stored on the refuges, Baker said.

Each acre of idled land yields about 2.5 acre-feet of water, he said. Applicants to the land idling program submit bids on how much they want to get paid. Baker said the Bureau will be looking to get the most water for the least amount.

In the original, 2003 water bank, the Bureau paid $187.50 per acre to all of those in the land idling program, but Baker said this year's prices will depend on the market and what the low bids are.

For more information, call Baker or Phil Graf, also a special projects manager, at 883-6935 or e-mail Baker at gbaker@m.usbr.gov or Graf at pgraf@mp.usbr.gov.

Land idling instructions, application forms, and a sample contract are available on the Project's Web site. Applications should be sent to or turned into the Klamath Basin Area Office at 6600 Washburn Way, Klamath Falls, OR 97603.

Water-saving ideas sought

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is seeking ideas and proposals to help meet the required 100,000 acre-feet in the 2005 water bank. Thoughts on storage, new or unusual sources of water or different techniques, are welcome.

Bureau officials ask for as much detail as possible be included in the ideas and proposals so they can thoroughly evaluate them. The more information, the better the chance of being accepted, according to a Bureau press release.

Proposals should be sent to the Klamath Basin Area Office, 6600 Washburn Way, Klamath Falls, OR 97603 by 4 p.m. Jan. 27. A request for an ideas and proposals form can also be found at the Klamath Project's Web site at www.usbr.gov/mp/kbao .


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