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Klamath east side relishes abundant rainfall
Hank Cheyne bales hay last week near Lorella, Ore., in the water-short Langell Valley. Growers may still get three cuttings on the strength of unexpected spring rainfall. - GARY THAIN/For the Capital Press

DYLAN DARLING  Freelance Writer

BONANZA, Ore. – Pastures are green and lush in Langell Valley, with grass reaching up to tickle the bellies of grazing cattle.

This isn’t what John Nichols, manager of the Langell Valley Irrigation District, predicted the growing season would be like.

“It’s actually going to be a good year for the growers,” he said.

Hay prices are up, and most farmers are expecting to get three cuttings in 2005.

Back in April, the year looked to be dry, with little inflow expected to trickle into Gerber and Clear Lake reservoirs.

There was talk of irrigation ending in early July.

Federal officials were figuring a way to save endangered sucker fishes that live in Clear Lake by digging a channel and pooling the water in half of the lake, which lies across the state line in California.

The rain helped delay demand on irrigation. Growers had to wait for a break in the weather to start work, but then they let the clouds do the watering for them.

“A lot of them didn’t have to irrigate on their first cutting,” Nichols said. “They just went out and cut.”

In a good year, when conditions are perfect, alfalfa growers can get four cuts. Such conditions are ample water, early warm weather and no late frosts.

Conditions haven’t been perfect this year, but they have changed enough that growers in the Langell Valley should get by, Nichols said.

But next year, the same concerns about a dry season could come up again unless there is an increase in inflow over the cooler months into Clear Lake because of lingering effects of summer 2001. That summer the lake was brimming with water although water was tight in Upper Klamath Lake and Tule Lake.

To aid suckers in Tule Lake, BuRec sent 100,000 acre feet of Clear Lake water down the Lost River. That cushion of stored water hasn’t recovered in the dry years since.

“It would be nice if the water that was there in 2001 was still there,” Nichols said.

A spring full of rain eased worries about water and nixed the plans for a sucker salvage.

Last week, the Langell Valley Irrigation District board of directors met with a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation official, but the topic of most interest was a bridge over a irrigation canal and not the water in it.

The water supply is short, a third of a normal irrigation season from Clear Lake. BuRec’s Cecil Lesley, chief of operations for the Klamath Project, said Clear Lake should supply 11,000 acre feet for irrigation this season, up from 8,000 acre feet predicted in April.

The plan to dig into the lake bottom and herd suckers into the deeper part has been scrapped because of the unexpected inflow. BuRec last week told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that Clear Lake minimum levels should fit the biological opinion designed to protect suckers.

“We should go back to normal operations,” Lesley said.

Gerber and Clear Lake are the two sources of water for irrigators in the Langell Valley Irrigation District, which serves about 18,000 acres. The Horsefly Irrigation District, which serves 10,000 acres, uses water from Clear Lake as well as return flows from Langell Valley.

The two districts are known as the Klamath Reclamation Project’s Eastside. Both serve about 100 accounts each.

The irrigation districts are part of the Klamath Reclamation Project, which was in the national spotlight in summer 2001 because the federal government didn’t put water through its main headgates at the start of irrigation season. The Eastside got a full irrigation year in 2001.

Thanks to 2005 spring rains, water supplies are up at both reservoirs.

As of July 1, Gerber had 39,595 acre feet of water and Clear Lake had 91,440 acre feet. Gerber, which has a smaller surface area but is deeper than Clear Lake, should supply 30,000 acre feet for irrigation this growing season.

Bureau officials are optimistic that weather will be different this winter and the lake will be recharged.

“We hope this spring is an indication that we will have a wet winter,” Lesley said.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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