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Bureau asks for drought declaration


Published January 5, 2005


Less than a week into 2005, Bureau of Reclamation officials want it officially declared a drought year.

They face a thin snowpack in the Cascades and a demand to set aside 100,000 acre-feet of water for coho salmon downstream of the Klamath Reclamation Project. So they want Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski to give them the OK to increase groundwater pumping to provide irrigation water that would offset the demand for in-stream water.

Project Manager Dave Sabo appeared before the Klamath County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to ask them to write a letter to the governor to formally declare 2005 a drought year. The commissioners agreed.

The timing is familiar. In 2004, the commissioners wrote a letter in January, and Kulongoski approved it in February.

This winter, snowpack in the Klamath Basin is at 66 percent of average for this time of year and inflows into the lake are at 75 percent, Sabo said.

"We just don't know how things are going to come out," he said.

With the drought designation, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can kick in supplemental groundwater pumping if needed, using what state water engineer Barry Norris called "emergency use" permits.

The permits would last for the calendar year and have monitoring and other control guidelines attached to them, Norris said.

Along with meeting water obligations to American Indian tribes, keeping Upper Klamath Lake high for endangered suckers and supplying the irrigation project with water, the Bureau is required to have a "water bank" of 100,000 acre-feet to aid flows for threatened coho in the Klamath River.

"If it is real dry it will be hard to make that water bank up without having to use the supplemental well permits," Sabo said.

The size of the water bank has grown in three years from 50,000 acre-feet to 100,000 acre-feet.

To help meet the 75,000 acre-feet required in the 2004 water bank, the Bureau had an emergency use permit for a cluster of about two dozen wells in the project.

By having the wells under one permit, Norris said, the state department was able to monitor them closely and exercise more control over the wells than if the permits had been issued separately.

Once a letter is sent by the board of commissioners to the governor, he asks for advice from a panel of state and federal experts called the Oregon Drought Council.

"The governor is the one who ultimately makes the recommendation," Norris said.

Last year, Kulongoski gave a drought designation in February. Bureau officials had gone to the board of commissioners in November 2003, asking for a letter to get the designation.

Cecil Lesley, project operations chief, said the lake is higher this year than last, but the snow pack is low. The lake was at 4,139.6 feet above sea level at the time last year, this year it's at 4,141.1. Full pool is at 4,143.3.

"Because we don't have a lot of snow pack we are trying to store as much water as we can right now," Lesley said.






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