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Trickling interest in water bank

Irrigation wheel lines sit in the snow near Cross Road Tuesday. Although the irrigation season is months off, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation needs to get land idling applications by next Thursday as it tries to figure out this year's water bank.

 January 19, 2005 by Dylan Darling, Herald and News

Applications coming up short on acre-feet

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation isn't getting the response it was looking for when it announced this year's water bank program.

Applications for land idling are due at the end of the month, and so far response has been light.

"We were expecting between 450 and 500 and so far we got 20," said Rae Olsen, Bureau spokeswoman.

In all, the Bureau needs to idle 28,000 acres of land in and near the Klamath Reclamation Project as part of the federally required water bank. The idled land would make up 50,000 acre-feet of the 100,000 acre-foot bank, which is used to maintain higher flows for threatened coho salmon on the Klamath River.

The rest of the water bank would include 25,000 acre-feet from groundwater pumping, 10,000 acre-feet from the Klamath Rangeland Trust above Upper Klamath Lake, and 15,000 acre-feet from storage on national wildlife refuges.

Land idling applications are due by 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27. The Klamath Reclamation Project's irrigation season typically runs from mid-April to mid-October.

Gary Baker, special projects officer for the Bureau's Klamath Basin Area Office, said the agency hasn't gotten as many applications as it had expected with the deadline just over a week away.

This will be the third year of the water bank program. In its first year, 2003, there were 450 applications for land idling, he said. Last year there were 500 applications.

Officials had been expecting to get about the same interest this year. Baker said many wait until the last days to apply and the number could get a boost up to the usual level, but time is short.

The application load could be lighter so far this year because they are due a couple of months sooner than they were in previous years, he said. Land idling applications were due in March the first two years.

Baker said the deadline was moved up because officials wanted to get things in order earlier this year. The deadline was announced in late December, a little over a month before the deadline.

Application forms were sent to all those who applied for the program in 2003 and 2004, as well as to others who showed interest in it. Application is open to all surface water users above Keno Dam, including non-Project users, except those using federal lease land and lands under temporary surplus water contracts.

Another possible reason for the light response could be the recent moisture in the Klamath Basin giving people confidence that the water inflow into Upper Klamath Lake should be better this year than the past few, Baker said. But, despite the moisture, the Basin's snowpack is still at about 60 percent of average for this time of year.

If spring is dry and people change their minds about applying for the idling program, it will be too late, he said.

"We do want to remind people that this is their only opportunity to apply for the dry land program this year," Baker said.

The Bureau doesn't have plans for what to do if it doesn't get the anticipated 28,000 acres idled, he said.

"I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Baker said.

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