Times tight for 2004
Klamath water bank
By DYLAN DARLING Freelance Writer
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — One by one, farmers in the
Klamath Basin are learning whether they are in or
out of the 2004 water bank being put together by
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. With money tight and a
federal biological opinion demanding a larger
water bank, the price per acre foot of water is
The water bank needs to have 75,000 acre feet of
water in it, and BuRec has a $4.5 million budget
to acquire it. That’s about $60 an acre foot.
“I have a limited amount of money to spend on the
water bank, so I have to make it go as far as it
can,” said Dave Sabo, the Klamath Project’s area
Last year BuRec spent $4.75 million to make a
50,000 acre foot water bank. That was paid at a
rate of $187.50 an acre for land taken out of
production, and $75 an acre foot for water pumped
This year, BuRec didn’t set prices. It opened the
water bank to bidding, including properties beyond
Sabo said the bids range from about $30 to about
$150 per acre foot.
There are about 400 applications, representing
about 60,000 acres proposed for idling and a total
of 140,000 acre feet of water supply.
The water bank is ordered by a NOAA Fisheries 2002
biological opinion designed to aid survival of
coho salmon on the main Klamath River. The opinion
gave BuRec several years to organize the water
bank as a way to augment flows in dry years. Next
year the target is 100,000 acre feet.
Sabo said this year, BuRec has more flexibility
than in past years because it can count as part of
the water bank unexpected stream flow from storm
events. He said some contracts signed this spring
are optional, involving larger pumps that will be
turned on only if more water is needed during the
The issue of whether high river flows are counted
is a point of contention between BuRec and NOAA.
The two federal agencies still haven’t agreed how
much water was ultimately sent downstream as water
bank releases in 2003.
But NOAA said the unexpected flows can be part of
the bank this year, Sabo said.
Groups on opposite sides of the Klamath water
issue have similar sentiments about the water bank
— saying it’s a Band-Aid, not a long- term
Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath
Water Users Association, said he appreciates the
government’s support of the program because it
compensates farmers and ranchers for changing
their water use, but it’s not something that
permanently fixes problems.
“We reluctantly support the water bank,” he said.
“The water bank isn’t going to be the silver
bullet that solves the problem.”
Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of
Fishermen’s Associations said the water bank is
inherently unstable, especially if it is
underfunded by the federal government.
“It depends on a Congress that is harder and
harder pressed to pay the bills,” Spain said.
He said his group favors a permanent purchase of
water rights, rather than the “renting” of water.
In addition to purchase of water, BuRec hopes to
fill about 12,000 acre feet through spring runoff
captured and stored at Agency Lake Ranch on the
upper lake, and at national wildlife refuges above
and within the project.
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