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Bureau: Project water bank is succeeding

February 10, 2006 by STEVE KADEL, H&N Staff Writer

The Klamath Reclamation Project water bank has been a success for irrigators, a Bureau of Reclamation official said Thursday.

“It's accomplished what it set out to do,” Dave Sabo said. “The Project hasn't shut down since 2002.”

He and Dave Solom of the Klamath Water Users Association updated the Natural Resource Advisory Council board of directors on aspects of the water bank during a Thursday night meeting. The board, which is new, advises the Klamath County commissioners.

The bank must store 100,000 acre-feet of water annually as long as biological opinions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service remain in effect.

That's accomplished by idling some land and contracting with irrigators for groundwater pumping when needed. Applications for the 2006 water bank are due at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Basin area office.

“Every irrigator's perspective on the water bank is different,” Solom said.

He emphasized that those in the program need fair market value for their contribution, but added, “That's a tough thing to put a price on.”

Solom noted that irrigators participated voluntarily in the beginning, but water bank payments have become a vital and lucrative part of some farmers' operations.

Sabo addressed the profusion of wells on the California side of the state line and how they affect the water table for Oregonians.

“We've shut down pumping where we've seen third-party impacts,” he said. “I'm looking at a much smaller requirement for groundwater pumping” this year.

Solom said there's been significant development of wells since 1991. That reduces the amount of water needed from Upper Klamath Lake, he said.

“A lot of wells now aren't drought wells, they're secondary wells that may be involved in the water bank,” Solom said. “But it does affect the aquifer in Oregon. There's no doubt about that.”

Both he and Sabo agreed a long-term solution to water storage should include surface storage. Studies are under way to see if the geology is suitable for large-scale surface water storage at Long Lake.

“We need carry-over storage,” Sabo said, adding that the Long Lake study is a lengthy process. “I see this as a way of solving a problem.”

Klamath County Commissioner Bill Brown said putting land out of production to boost the water bank has a negative effect on the local economy.

Bob Flowers, a resource advisory council member, said the water bank's practice of idling land “is a nail in the coffin of young farmers trying to come into the Basin.” That's because it reduces the amount of land open to cultivation, he said.

Meanwhile, Sabo had some good news for irrigators. “There's no question we're not going to have a drought year this year,” he said.

Still, Sabo said Bureau of Reclamation plans to contract for groundwater pumping with farmers on both sides of the state line just to be safe.




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