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Water outlook is a mixed bag
Good news: lake level is higher; bad news: inflows are down
By JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 3/8/12
Inflows into Upper Klamath Lake — a major source of Basin irrigation water — are declining and that has officials worried about the outlook for the upcoming irrigation season.
Other hydrological data, however, shows positive signs for irrigators: snowpack is increasing, Upper Klamath Lake water levels are up and river flows out of the lake are at a minimum.
It’s just too early to tell how much irrigation water will be available this spring, local water off icials say. Much could change between now and then, but an unusually dry winter has irrigators preparing for a water shortage, they say.
Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Agency, said the situation is getting worse: projections for how much water will be available this spring are decreasing. That was somewhat of a surprise, he said, considering the Basin has received several inches of snow in recent weeks.
“Bottom line is, the forecast is getting worse,” he said.
Mum on predictions
Kevin Moore, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area office, said it’s too early to draw conclusions about how much water irrigators will get this year. The Bureau plans to release in early April an operations plan that will outline how much irrigation water will be available, he said.
“It’s time for planning, not necessarily time for panic,” he said.
A key indicator of how much irrigation water will be available is river flows into Upper Klamath Lake, Moore said. Bi-monthly readings show those inflows are decreasing. Inflows to the lake were 52 percent of historical average in mid-February and 46 percent of average at the beginning of March, Moore said.
If low inflows are the bad news, increased lake levels are the good news. The elevation of Upper Klamath Lake Wednesday was 4,142.01 feet, nearly a foot higher than the same date in 2010, a year when drought cut the allotment of irrigation water roughly in half.
But a full lake isn’t enough to meet irrigators’ needs, Moore said. Steady inflows from tributaries are needed to ensure there is something left for irrigation after water is sent downstream for endangered salmon and kept in the lake for endangered sucker.
Recent storms have helped bolster the snowpack that will feed those tributaries this spring. Snowpack Wednesday was 68 percent of historical average for that date, up from 63 percent a week before, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Low flows out of Upper Klamath Lake are another good sign, and explain how the lake level is rising while inf lows are dropping. The f low at Link River Dam Wednesday was 351 cubicfeet-per-second, compared with a historical average for that date of 1,710 cfs, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.



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