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Feds renew call to idle Basin land

 February 14, 2005


With forecasts calling for dry weather and low streamflows this summer, the federal government has put out a second call for farmers in the Upper Klamath Basin who are willing to let their land remain idle this year.

"We thought there were a lot of people who hadn't applied before low predictions," said Rae Olsen, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. "We thought we had better give them another opportunity to participate."

The agency will also allow those who applied in the first go-round a chance to change their bids after hearing the latest water forecasts.

In late December, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation asked water users in and near the Klamath Reclamation Project to submit bids for the land idling program by Jan. 27. Interest was light at first but surged near the end, giving officials 234 applications representing 40,423 acres from which to choose the 25,000 acres the targeted for a so-called water bank.

Idling 25,000 acres in or above the Klamath Project would reduce demand for water by 50,000 acre-feet, officials said.

Reclamation hopes to gain another 35,000 acre-feet for the water bank by paying farmers to use well water instead of canal water, or tap wells to send water into canals. The agency also hopes to gain 15,000 acre-feet from storage on wildlife refuges.

Applications for payments to use well water, and new and revised applications for the land idling program, are due at the Bureau's Klamath Falls office by 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24.

The water bank program in the Upper Klamath Basin is required by the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect threatened coho salmon in the lower Klamath River.

In the water bank, the federal government pays water users to reduce or supplement their use of Project water. Eligibility for all the programs is limited to field units that have been irrigated in the recent past, officials said. Fields need have at least 20 contiguous acres.

Selection of bids for providing well water will be based not only on cost considerations, but on the ability of a well to deliver water to the Project without interfering with other wells or surface water supplies or intercepting water that will eventually reach a surface water source, as determined by the Oregon or California groundwater resources authorities.

Participation is open to water users above Keno Dam on the Klamath River and below Harpold Dam on the Lost River, including non-Project users, except federal land leasees.

Because of dry conditions on the east side and lack of inflows to Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir, little or no water is expected to be available below Harpold Dam and therefore cannot augment Klamath River flows, officials said.

Applications and other documents should be sent to Phil Graf, Klamath Basin Area Office, 6600 Washburn Way, Klamath Falls, OR 97603. For more information, contact Graf at 883-6935 or at pgraf@mp.usbr.gov.

A sample contract, instructions and application forms for well water and land idling programs are available on the Bureau's Klamath Falls office's Web site.

On the Net: www.usbr.gov/mp/kbao

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