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Bureau hopes last-minute surge will fill water bank

January 26, 2005 by DYLAN DARLING  Herald and News

Comments by Barbara Hall, Klamath Bucket Brigade... www.klamathbucketbrigade.org 
If Judge Hogan has ruled that the coho ESA listing is bogus and that the NOAA/NMFS has to count the hatchery fish then why do we have to supply 100,000 acre feet for them down river?  Answer:  Until the status review is over, the Upper Klamath Basin is still under the 2002-2012 Biological Opinion for the Coho.  And that Opinion requires we send 100,000 acre feet of water down river, idle productive farm land, and pump ground water this year.  The Bureau's
Final Draft of Undepleted Natural Flow of the Upper Klamath River also proves that more water is going down river now then before the Klamath Project was built.  Spring flood water that used to fill Lower Klamath Lake and spill over the Lost River Slough into Tule Lake and never made it down river; is now being stored in Upper Klamath Lake behind the Link River Dam and released year round.  And this fact:  "A consulting hydrologist, Mark Van Camp of Sacramento, told  water users an analysis of the draft BuRec historic water flow study shows that downstream flows have increased 30 percent over discharges before settlement. Thatís apparently because the irrigated land uses less water than evaporation loss from the thousands of acres of wetlands that existed before the shallow lakebeds were diked, drained and put to the plow."  Taken from Hint: States, feds will unite on Klamath solutions - Capital Press article  

Hopefully, this will be the last year of the Water Bank.  Though we'll still have Tribal Trust to deal with!  ~  Barb

Jennifer Birri, left, water and land specialist for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, helps Modoc County landowner Carlene Halouseck with an application for the water bank land idling program at the Tulelake Irrigation District office Monday.

TULELAKE - This year's water bank has a vault full of questions.

Will there be enough land idling applications to fill half of the bank as needed? How much water will be pumped from wells this year? How is the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation going to come up with a total of 100,000 acre-feet of water to protect fish?

The answer to the first question could soon be at hand - the deadline for land idling applications is 4 p.m. Thursday. Officials are cautiously optimistic that a late surge in applications will yield enough acreage to get the 50,000 acre-feet they planned from the land idling program.

But if the Bureau doesn't get enough applications, it might have to open up another round, said Dave Sabo, manager of the Klamath Reclamation Project.

The answers to the other questions might not come until the outlook of water for the irrigation season comes into focus, he said.

"I've got to get 100,000 acre-feet," Sabo said.

The Bureau's water bank plan this year calls for 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. The remainder would come from land idling.

To get that 50,000 acre-feet, they need about 25,000 acres of idled land, according to the Bureau.

So what happens if the Bureau doesn't get the acreage needed?

"I don't know, and I think it is still too early to say," Sabo said.

In late December the Bureau announced it was taking applications for the land idling program. By last week it had received 25 applications, well below the 400 or 500 it expected by the Jan. 27 deadline.

"Twenty-five might be enough, it depends on what they offered," Sabo said. With applications, farmers and ranchers put in an amount of acreage they would idle along with a bid for how much they want to be paid per acre to do it.

Although officials said there usually is a flurry of applications that come in just before the deadline, the meager number of applications prompted them to send staffers out to the field early this week.

Jennifer Birri, water and land specialist, and Stephanie Painter, a hydrological technician, were at the Tulelake Irrigation District office Monday. Tuesday Birri and Phil Graf, a special projects officer, were at the Klamath Irrigation District office. At the offices, the staffers answered questions from farmers and ranchers about the program and helped them fill out applications.

The most common questions were about how much they should bid, Birri said.

Carlene Halouseck, who owns about 150 acres of farmland in Modoc County, came into Tulelake to get help with a water bank application Monday. She ended up putting 37 of her acres up for bid to be idled.

Even though she signed up for the program, she said doesn't like the idea of increasing flows down the river for fish.

"Why do they need our water?" she said.

Don "Will" Dalton, who lives in the Poe Valley, put up 68 acres for bid to be idled. He said he runs a hair salon and his wife is a school teacher, so they don't rely on the farmland. By giving up the water for some of his land, it could help a farmer he said.

"There are people that need the water," he said.

Many came with questions and a few turned in applications in Tulelake, Birri said. About 20 people turned in applications at the Klamath Irrigation District Office Tuesday.

"Based on today's results, we should get enough acreage," Graf said Tuesday. "I don't see a problem getting what we need."

He said the Bureau expects to announce whose applications were accepted in mid-February.

Bureau officials didn't have information on the number of applications filed by late Tuesday. Officials said the numbers will be available Friday.

For last year's water bank, which totaled 75,000 acre-feet, the Bureau signed contracts idling 4,364 acres. A total of 33,841 acres were offered by farmers. Most of the for last year's water bank came from wells. The idled acres yielded about 9,500 acre-feet of water.

"So (this year's) is five times more than last year," Birri said.

Farmers who offered to idle fields last year submitted bids ranging from $58 to $702 per acre, according to the Bureau. Bids accepted by the Bureau ranged from $63.75 to $200, with the average successful bid coming in at $146.

In 2003, the water bank's first year, the Bureau signed contracts for 14,431 acres of 23,093 acres offered. That year there was a fixed price of $187.50 per acre for all acreage.

The water bank program is required under a biological opinion approved by NOAA-Fisheries to protect threatened coho salmon in the lower Klamath River. Water set aside in the water bank must be available for use by April 1, said Irma Lagomarsino, Arcata field office supervisor for NOAA-Fisheries.

She said the main purpose of having the water bank is to provide high spring flows on the river. How much water the water bank actually provides is tied to the weather and water situation in the Basin. And this year could be tough.

Lagomarsino said there has been drought the last four years in the Basin and this year there could be severe drought.

"I think we are entering a very challenging year in the Basin and it is hard to predict how things are going to fall into place," Lagomarsino said.

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





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