Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Accountability Integrity Reliability www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-05-283.
To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on the link above. For more information, contact Anu K. Mittal at (202) 512-3841 or mittala@gao.gov.
Highlights of GAO-05-283, a report to congressional requesters

March 2005
What GAO Found -- Reclamation Met Its Water Bank Obligations, but Information Provided to Water Bank Stakeholders Could Be Improved

Full report go HERE

Reclamation has changed how it operates the Klamath Project water bank,
as it has gained more experience, to help it meet its growing obligations and
mitigate costs. For example, Reclamation initially obtained most of the
water for the water bank by contracting with irrigators to either forego
irrigation altogether (crop idling), or use only well water (groundwater
substitution). It later added the option to pump well water into the irrigation
canals for others to use (groundwater pumping). For the period 2002
through 2004, Reclamation’s water bank expenditures totaled over $12
million, and the cumulative cost could exceed $65 million through 2011.

GAO’s analysis of water bank contracts and river flow records found that
Reclamation met its water bank obligations by acquiring and delivering the
required amount of water for 2002 through 2004. However, Reclamation has
not provided stakeholders with systematic and clear information concerning
the water bank’s management and status and its decision to use river flow
data that are not publicly available limited stakeholders’ ability to monitor
water bank activities. This has led to confusion and doubt among
stakeholders on whether Reclamation met its water bank obligations.

The water bank appears to have increased the availability of water to
enhance river flows by reducing the amount of water diverted for irrigation,
but the actual impacts are difficult to quantify because Reclamation lacks
flow measurement equipment and monitoring data for the Klamath Project.
Reviews by external experts of the impacts of the 2002 and 2003 crop idling
contracts indicate that significantly less water may have been obtained from
these contracts than Reclamation estimated. Given the uncertainty
surrounding how much water can be obtained from crop idling, in 2004
Reclamation officials decided to rely primarily upon metered groundwater
wells for the water bank. However, Reclamation has since learned that
groundwater aquifers under the Klamath Project, already stressed by
drought conditions, have shown significant declines in water levels and are
refilling at a slower than normal rate in recent years. As a result,
Reclamation is considering lessening its reliance on groundwater for the
2005 water bank but is uncertain if it can meet its water bank obligations,
particularly for spring flows, while increasing its reliance on crop idling.

Although several alternative approaches for achieving the water bank’s
objectives have been identified by Reclamation and other stakeholders,
limited information is available regarding their feasibility or costs. Some
alternatives to the water bank include permanently retiring Klamath Project
land from irrigation or adding new short-term or long-term storage. Each
alternative has been considered to varying degrees, but significant analysis is
still needed on most alternatives before any implementation decisions can
be made. Meanwhile, Reclamation and the National Marine Fisheries
Service have an ongoing dialogue regarding the water bank and will likely
reconsult on Klamath Project operations, including the water bank, in 2006.
Why GAO Did This Study

Drought conditions along the Oregon and California border since 2000 have made it difficult for the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) to meet Klamath Project irrigation demands and Klamath River flow requirements for threatened salmon. To augment river flows and avoid jeopardizing the salmon’s existence, Reclamation established a multiyear water bank as part of its Klamath Project operations for 2002 through 2011. Water banks facilitate the transfer of water entitlements between users.

This report addresses (1) how Reclamation operated the water bank and its cost from 2002
through 2004, (2) whether Reclamation met its annual water bank obligations each year, (3) the water bank’s impact on water availability and use in the Klamath River Basin, and (4) alternative approaches for achieving the water bank’s objectives.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that Reclamation improve the information provided to stakeholders by systematically providing public information on management decisions and the
water bank’s status.

The Departments of Commerce and the Interior reviewed a draft of this report and generally agreed with the findings; Reclamation agreed with the recommendation.
This is a 60 page report and starting on Page 40 are the Conclusions/Recomendations:
Water shortages in the Klamath River Basin have created serious conflicts
and placed Reclamation in the difficult position of balancing competing
demands for water among numerous stakeholders. Over the last three
years, Reclamation has demonstrated commitment and resourcefulness in
this task, particularly under drought conditions, by implementing and
meeting the obligations of the temporary water bank. However, whether
Reclamation can continue meeting its water bank obligation using current
methods is unclear, given the uncertain results of crop idling and the
unknown sustainability of groundwater pumping. This uncertainty adds
urgency to Reclamation and stakeholder efforts to collaboratively identify
and evaluate long-term solutions. In the mean time, because the water bank
acts as the primary mechanism for balancing competing demands for
water, Reclamation must be able to clearly communicate to stakeholders
how the water bank is managed and how water is accounted for. This
information will make the management and accountability for this public
resource more transparent to all those that rely on and are affected by the
water bank.
Recommendation for
Executive Action

We are recommending that Reclamation take steps to improve the
information provided to stakeholders regarding water bank management
and accounting by regularly and systematically providing—through media
such as a water bank Web-link or a monthly or biweekly press release—
public information on the rationale and effects of management decisions
related to forecasted water availability, unexpected spill conditions, or
other significant events, as well as regularly updated information regarding
the water bank’s status, including the amount of water bank deliveries to
Agency Comments and
Our Evaluation

We provided copies of our draft report to the Departments of Agriculture,
Commerce, and the Interior for their review and comment. We received a
written response from the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and
Atmosphere that includes comments from the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and from Interior’s Assistant
Secretary, Policy, Management and Budget that includes comments from
Reclamation and BLM. Overall, NOAA stated that the report accurately
reflects the history of the water bank, and Reclamation expressed
appreciation for GAO’s efforts to report on the complex Klamath River
Basin situation. We requested comments from Agriculture, but none were

Reclamation agreed with our recommendation to improve the information
provided to stakeholders regarding water bank management and
accounting. Reclamation agreed to implement steps to enhance water bank
communications through systematic feedback to stakeholders with
information regarding the water bank. Reclamation said that it would add a
new page to its Web site exclusively for the water bank, which will include
background information, new information as it becomes available, links to
relevant Web resources such as USGS’ Klamath River gauge at Iron Gate
Dam, and graphics showing the status of water bank flow augmentation.
This information will be updated at least biweekly, with notices posted to
direct stakeholders to updated information. Reclamation plans to complete
these changes to its Web site by June 30, 2005.
NOAA, Reclamation, and BLM provided comments of a factual and
technical nature, which we have incorporated throughout the report as
appropriate. Because of the length of the technical comments provided by
Reclamation and BLM, we did not reproduce them in the report. Interior’s
transmittal letter and response to our recommendation are presented in
appendix III, and NOAA’s comments are presented in appendix IV.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today released the following


Klamath River Basin: Reclamation Met Its Water Bank Obligations, but
Information Provided to Water Bank Stakeholders Could Be Improved.
GAO-05-283, March 28


Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/highlights/d05283high.pdf





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2005, All Rights Reserved