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Outlook improves for Basin irrigators


Snowpack at 100 percent of average; lake 2-1/2 feet higher


by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 4/3/12


All Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators will receive water, at least at the beginning of the growing season, the latest water projections show.


The Natural Resources Conservation Service released its bi-weekly water report Sunday that projected increasing inflows to Upper Klamath Lake, a primary source of irrigation water.


The Project headgates opened Monday and water began to fill irrigation canals local farmers and ranchers feared would remain dry due to an unusually arid start to winter.


Based on the water report, there likely will be 275,000 to 325,000 acre-feet of water from Upper Klamath Lake available to Project irrigators, said Kevin Moore, spokesman with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin area office.


“It’s really good for the agriculture industry and the economic outlook of the Basin,” he said of the water forecast. “Hopefully we will be able to sustain (water deliveries) throughout the year.”


In a normal year, Project irrigators use about 400,000 acre-feet of water from the lake, though that number can vary, said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. Based lake levels and snowpack, Addington said he thinks irrigators should receive more water than the Bureau projects.


“We’re in a position where we think we should have full (water) deliveries,” he said.


Last month, Bureau officials said it was likely some Project irrigators would not receive water because of a projected lack of inflows to Upper Klamath Lake.


But according to the latest NRCS water report, inflows to the lake during the irrigation season will likely be about 78 percent of historical average. At best, inflows will be 98 percent of historical average and at worst 57 percent, according to the report.


Snowpack in the Klamath Basin as of Monday was 100 percent of historical average for that date, up from 89 percent 10 days ago.


Lake elevation up


The elevation of Upper Klamath Sunday was up to 4,143.07 feet, 2-½ feet higher than the same date in 2010, a year when Project irrigators received about half of their normal allotment of water.


Continued precipitation in recent weeks has helped increase snowpack and raise lake levels. Irrigators worried they would face a major water shortage, like in 2010, after the Basin received virtually no precipitation from Thanksgiving to Christmas.


It’s still unclear if there will be enough surface water for irrigators later in the growing season, but there are some means to mitigate that concern, including a Klamath Water and Power Agency program that will pay irrigators to pump groundwater.


It ’s a common concern that there won’t be enough water to go around on the Klamath Project. Certain amounts of water must be retained in Upper Klamath Lake and released down river to satisfy requirements for endangered suckers and coho salmon, respectively. Irrigators get the remaining water.

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