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Water year looks like 2001

Aubrey Campbell and Kevin Fain with JW Kerns Inc. work on the wiring of a linear irrigation system wheel line along Township Road Wednesday. A federal official warned Thursday that water supplies will be tight this summer.

 March 4, 2005


Federal water managers say they hope to deliver a full supply of water to irrigators in most of the Klamath Reclamation Project this year, even though conditions this spring closely resemble those of four years ago.

"The numbers are kind of paralleling 2001," said Jolyne Lea, a streamflow forecaster with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The federal government didn't delivery any water to most Project farmers at the start of the 2001 season, and turmoil ensued as irrigators and their supporters staged a protest for several weeks at the headgates of the A Canal.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has more flexibility in managing water than it did four years ago.

Still, while the Bureau will do everything it can to make full deliveries this year, water users should be aware that water supplies could be tight, said Dave Sabo, manager of the Klamath Reclamation Project.

"We are facing some tough times ahead, I'm afraid," Sabo said. "It's dry out there. It's a real dry year."

He spoke to about 120 Project irrigators Thursday at a meeting of the Klamath Water Users Association at the Klamath County Fairgrounds. The focus of the meeting was on power rates and possible changes, but Sabo also took some time to discuss water supplies.

His presentation didn't surprise many in the room. Since the first streamflow forecast in January, the predicted water supply numbers have gotten worse with every biweekly update.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, the federal agency tasked with predicting how much streamflow the snowpacks around the country will produce throughout the summer, came out with its March 1 prediction earlier this week.

It was more bad news for the Project and its water users.

The forecast calls for 265,000 acre-feet of water, or 52 percent of average, to flow into Upper Klamath Lake from April to September. The lake is the Project's main reservoir.

The snowiest months of winter have passed and spring is now 16 days away. Irrigation season typically starts the first part of April.

Although storms brought some rainfall to the Basin last week, it was too warm to add any snow to the higher elevations.

"The warm rain will just melt the snow," Lea said.

The snow level today was at 5,500 feet, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasts for the weekend call for highs in the mid-50s to lower 60s, although no rain is expected.

"The weather is wonderful to go out and have fun in, but not it's not good if you want to have water for the summer," Lea said.

The weather today could add to a shortage of water this summer.

Although the Bureau has implemented a water bank program to reduce the demand for irrigation water, the program wasn't designed to soften the blow of a natural water shortage, Sabo said.

While things look bad for farmers who rely on Upper Klamath Lake, things look even worse for irrigators on the east side of the Klamath Project. Low water levels in Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir could cut irrigation season in half, even with reduced deliveries, officials said.

The latest inflow forecast numbers have Gerber getting 5,000 acre-feet, or 28 percent of normal, and Clear Lake getting 19,000 acre-feet, or 40 percent of normal, from April through September.

The next streamflow forecast will be out on March 15.

On the Net: www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/special/klamath.pl





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

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