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Klamath Basin water year looks promising

H&N by Gerry O'Brien 4/12/17

It’s looking like there will be full deliveries of water to the Klamath Basin water users, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

That is something the Basin has not seen for at least the last four years due to drought conditions both here and in Northern California.

“Klamath Project water users are looking forward to a great water year,” said Pablo Arroyave, Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Acting regional director. “We are experiencing the best hydrologic conditions since 2011, and it’s a refreshing start for the irrigation season.”

The bureau announced its 2017 Klamath Project Operations Plan for irrigators on Tuesday.

Jason Cameron, deputy area manager for the Basin area office, said it looks as if there will be full delivery of water out of the three reservoirs that serve the Project: Upper Klamath Lake, Gerber and Clear Lake reservoirs. That means more than 200,000 acres of farmland in the project will have water available to it.

“The only area of concern is if we get a warming trend and the snowpack melts too rapidly,” Cameron said. And, because this year has ample supplies, next year should start off well, too, Cameron said. “Whatever isn’t used this year, is stored in Upper Klamath Lake to start off next year.”

Planting season

Scott White, Klamath Water Users Association director, said, “I think after Monday night’s KWUA annual meeting, and irrigators learning of a full allocation for the Klamath Project, farmers are going to be planting as soon as possible. Fields are still pretty saturated from the winter, but some are trying to get seed in the ground in some cases.

“Overall, I think the farmers are chomping at the bit to get going. It’s been a pretty long, but welcome, winter,” White said.

Meanwhile, funding for what is known as Klamath Water and Power Agency’s Water Use Mitigation Program or WUMP has ceased. The program compensates irrigators who idle their land, agreeing to not divert surface water to grow crops.

“Yes WUMP is gone, but on a year like this, I don’t think there is any desire to idle farm land,” White said.

Also of concern the biological opinion — an overarching research document that guides Reclamation’s water disbursement to protect endangered fish.

“KWUA is certainly concerned about upcoming consultation on the new biological opinion that will dictate future Klamath Project operations. Currently, there is no opportunity for water users to be represented in that process,” White said.

“So, KWUA is continuing to secure the opportunity to be engaged in that process so all interests can be represented,” he said. “Collaboration has been a successful model for solving problems in the Klamath Basin and biological opinion consultation should not be an exception to that.”

Strong snowpack

The water delivery plan is based upon the Natural Resources Conservation Service inflow forecasts and current reservoir elevations, according to a Bureau press release.

As of April 1, the snowpack was 122 percent of average and the total precipitation was 139 percent of average, the bureau said. This is the first time the Klamath Basin has had a wet winter since the release in 2013 of the biological opinion.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Upper Klamath Lake had an elevation of 4,142.89 feet, which is equivalent to approximately 481,414 acre-feet of storage, or 93 percent of full pool.

Who gets the water

Specifically, the bureau’s plan provides an estimate of the 2017 water supply available for the Project and the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, the volume of water to be released to the Klamath River for Endangered Species Act-listed threatened Coho salmon, and the volume of water to be reserved in Upper Klamath Lake for ESA-listed endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers.

The plan is also used by agricultural water users, Klamath Basin tribes, national wildlife refuge managers, and others as a tool to meet their expected water needs.

Agency forecast for inflows to Upper Klamath Lake from April 1 to Sept. 30 is 615,000 acre-feet, about 128 percent of average inflow. Under these conditions, the Project supply is expected to be 390,000 acre-feet, which is a full supply.

Based on current lake levels and projected inflows for Clear Lake and Gerber reservoirs the anticipated water supplies for the 2017 irrigation season are 35,000 acre-feet from Clear Lake Reservoir and approximately 35,000 acre-feet from Gerber Reservoir; both are are anticipated to provide 100 percent of a full supply.

While no one could speak to the groundwater aquifer, officials noted that the abundance of rain and snowfall has likely helped recharge underground reservoirs, too.

And, despite a forecasted full supply, the plan encourages water conservation to ensure available water throughout the season, the release said.

The Project’s 2017 Operations Plan is available at https://on.doi.gov/2pqXcgn. If you encounter problems accessing the document, call 916-978-5100 (TTY 800-877-8339) or email mppublicaffairs@usbr.gov.



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