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Water bank applications flood Bureau

A late surge of applications from irrigators who want to take part in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's water bank has left the Bureau "cautiously optimistic" that it will meet its goal. The Bureau wants to idle enough land in the Klamath Reclamation Project to set aside 50,000 acre-feet to benefit coho salmon in the lower Klamath River.

After seeing a meager initial response to a request for applications, Bureau officials became concerned they might not be able to set aside enough water. But business picked up last week, officials said.

In all, 234 applications were turned in to the Bureau's Klamath Falls office by the deadline Thursday.

In the program, irrigators submit bids on what they'd be willing to accept, and the Bureau picks from among them.

Last year, the Bureau received bids ranging up to $702 per acre-foot, and accepted bids ranging from $63.75 to $200. The average bid accepted per acre-foot was $146 for 75,000 acre-feet, and 4,364 acres in the Project were idled. Most of the water for the water bank came from wells, rather than the Project's irrigation system.

The Bureau plans to get 50,000 acre-feet of its federally required 100,000 acre-foot water bank by paying to have about 25,000 acres lie fallow this year.

"I would say that we are cautiously optimistic that the response from the irrigator community will help us make our 100,000 acre-foot requirement," Olsen said.

In late December, Bureau officials announced the deadline for the land idling applications was Jan. 27. Officials expected a response of 400 to 500 applications, but about a week before the deadline they'd gotten only 20.

Bureau staffers went to the Tulelake and Klamath irrigation district offices to help farmers and ranchers with their applications, which boosted numbers, officials said. There also was a rush of applications in the days just before the deadline.

Now the Bureau will evaluate the applications, weighing crops, soil types and costs to determine if it will make its goals for the land-idling program, Olsen said.

The water bank program is required by the National Marine Fisheries Service to boost flows down the Klamath River for threatened coho salmon. The rest of the water bank would come from 25,000 acre-feet of well water, 10,000 acre-feet from land idling above Upper Klamath Lake and 15,000 acre-feet from storage on national wildlife refuges.

Water set aside in the water bank needs to be available for use by April 1.

This information and much more that you need to know about the ESA, the Klamath Basin, and private property rights can be found at The Klamath Bucket Brigade's website - http://www.klamathbucketbrigade.org/ -- please visit today.

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