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Water bank assets run low


Published May 14, 2004


Fishermen work the Klamath River a few miles below Iron Gate Dam last fall. The Bureau of Reclamation is tapping a "water bank" to keep flows up for salmon, but the bank's vault is emptying quickly. Fishery interests are concerned about the possibility of low flows this summer.

With the start of summer still more than a month away, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has already committed more than half the extra water set aside to protect salmon in the lower Klamath River.

As the water level in Upper Klamath Lake begins dropping from its springtime peak, Bureau officials will have to stretch remaining water supplies.

"It's going to be exciting later this year," said Dave Sabo, manager of the Klamath Reclamation Project.

Under the terms of a plan to protect threatened coho salmon, the Bureau is required to keep 75,000 acre-feet of water in a "water bank."

To make water available for the water bank, the Bureau pays irrigators to leave farmland idle or to use well water instead of canal water.

The Bureau sent 11,000 acre-feet of water bank flows downstream in April.

By the end of May, another 30,000 acre-feet of water-bank storage will have been used.

Calculating water allocations for the Klamath River involves formulas affected by a variety of factors.

Among them is the water year type, which the Bureau changed last week from "below average" to "dry." The change would have allowed the Bureau to cut river flows from about 1,000 cubic feet per second to about 730 cfs.

But in order to protect juvenile salmon migrating toward the ocean, the Bureau had been maintaining flows at about 1,550 cfs.

Flows are being reduced, and by this weekend will be around 1,100 cfs. They will remain at that level through the end of May.

Sabo said the Bureau is talking with downstream Indian tribes and the National Marine Fisheries Service about how to use the remaining 34,000 acre-feet of water that will remain in the water bank at the end of the month.

Fishery interests are concerned about the possibility of low flows in September, when temperatures are hot and adult salmon are running upstream.

If the water bank is saved until September, flows in July could be as low as 515 cfs, Sabo said.

This year's water bank will also end up costing a half a million dollars more than officials had expected.

"I'm spending more money right now in the water bank than I really have," he said.

The Bureau will end up spending $5.1 million for the project that was budgeted for $4.6 million.

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