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Irrigation news not good

BOR official: 2012 won’t be like 2011, where everyone had ‘as much water as they wanted’

by Shelby King, Herald and News 2/29/12

Jason Phillips said irrigators aren’t going to like what he has to say about water use this year.


Phillips is the manager of the Klamath Basin office of the Bureau of Reclamation. He spoke Thursday at a Klamath Conversations presentation sponsored by water group PROSPER.


“In 2012, it will not be like 2011, when I was able to tell everyone they could have as much water as they wanted,” Phillips said.

The Klamath Basin currently is sitting at 61 percent of the average amount of precipitation for the year, according to the BOR.


On Feb. 27, Upper Klamath Lake had a surface elevation of 4,141.72 feet, less than 2 feet higher than the same date in 2010, the last time a drought was declared in the region.


Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said irrigators are exploring all options in the event of limited water supplies. He said they are planning to ask the Klamath County commissioners to send a letter to Gov. John Kitzhaber requesting a drought declaration.


‘The bottom line is that we need more snowpack,” Addington said.


Phillips said he will have to consider irrigators, tribes, endangered species and area wildlife refuges when deciding who gets water and how much.


“We have an unadjudicated Basin. There are no easy answers,” he said. “There are many competing interests and it’s not always as simple as looking at the law to figure it out. It’s not always the best route to solve issues between users.”


Phillips said through careful negotiations, he will figure out a way to get stakeholders through the year.


“I understand that there are competing needs,” he said. “I guarantee that from the Klamath Basin office you will see staff that will work through this collaboratively and will include the interests of the tribes and the irrigators.”


Too early for predictions

Greg Adding ton said Klamath Basin irrigators are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst this year. He said it’s too early to make predictions about the amount of water irrigators will have available to them, but they definitely need more snowpack in the mountains.


“I don’t think we’re going to get zero (water),” said Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, “but we’re very concerned that we’re not going to have enough.”


He said irrigators are meeting weekly with Bureau of Reclamation officials to figure out what river flow and lake level requirements must be met.


“Our incentive right now is to make sure not one drop extra goes over the (Link River) dam because we want to keep as much as we can stored in the lake,” he said. “But the bottom line is that we need more snowpack.”


Addington is looking at every avenue for ways to mitigate the current water level situation.


“We are planning on asking the (Klamath) County commissioners to send a letter to the governor asking for a drought declaration,” he said. “That would provide us with more flexibility in groundwater pumping.”


In addition to pumping groundwater, irrigators could let land sit idle, but Addington said they don’t want to do that.


“We want the Basin to be as productive as possible,” Addington said. “We don’t like idling land.”


When a drought was declared in 2010, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., was able to secure $10 million in federal aid for the Basin to help people get by, Addington said. That might be an option again in 2012, if necessary.


The KWUA will have its annual meeting March 22 and will have a better idea then what the water delivery numbers will look like.


“We’re trying to hold off as long as we can to make a prediction,” Addington said. “There are storms coming and things can change.”

Snowpack vs. lake levels

Kevin Moore, spokesman for the local Bureau of Reclamation office, said snowpack is more important than lake levels in determining where the Basin stands for the coming water season.


“We are better off in the lake than we were in 2010,” Moore said, “but what’s difficult to understand is that we don’t have a lot of storage in the lake.”


Moore said much of the water stakeholders use during the year is stored during the winter as snowpack in the surrounding mountains, melting and draining into the lake each spring.


At the end of Feb. 2010, the Basin had 71 percent of its usual average snowpack. This year, the Basin has just 61 percent of its average snowpack.


“Low precipitation and snowpack could reduce the inflow into Upper Klamath Lake,” Moore said, “but there is still ample time, as far as precipitation is concerned, to turn things around.”


The BOR will publish its operations plan for 2012 after April 1, when it receives the inflow forecasts for Upper Klamath Lake from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.


“It’s a time to be diligent in planning, but not a time to panic,” he said.



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