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Snowpack helped by storms, but not enough
Warm storms may melt snow too early
by ANDREW CREASEY, Herald and News 3/17/12
The weekend forecast for winter weather will help bolster water levels used for local irrigation, but there is still not enough for a full irrigation season, according to the Klamath Basin Area Office for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Today the snow-water equivalent, which measures the amount of water within snowpack, is at 78 percent. Despite an increase from the mid-60 percent reported last week, there is concern about the amount of snowpack in the Klamath Basin, according to Kevin Moore, local spokesman for the Bureau.
“It will take a large amount of snowpack to get us where we need to be for the irrigation season,” he said. “Without an adequate amount, it makes it very doubtful that we’ll receive the inflows necessary to sustain our irrigation releases for the year.”
The Bureau office already has notified “B user” irrigators they most likely will not receive surface water.
The water level in Upper Klamath Lake, which fluctuates with the runoff from mountain snowpack, is constrained by a biological opinion designed to protect two species of endangered sucker. That minimum level of 4,142.2 feet should be passed within the next few weeks, so starting irrigation is not the concern.
The concern is if the level of Upper Klamath Lake recedes below 4,142.2 feet at any time during the summer, it will trigger a shut off of irrigation water, according to Hollie Cannon, executive director at Klamath Water and Power Agency.
“At this point it looks almost certain that the water supply will be limited by July,” he said.
While any precipitation helps, Cannon has concerns the snowpack will melt prematurely.
“The storms we’re having now are good, but the downside is that they’re warm storms,” he said. “We need the snowpack that’s there to melt in June and July, not earlier.”
Moore says if the area has a wet spring, it will take pressure off the lake and provide irrigators with water. The coming weather is a step in that direction.
“The last couple storms and the potential for some more are really a big deal,” said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. “It can make all the difference, but we’ll have to wait and see. We’re not out of the woods by any means, but it’s helpful.”
If water levels do not return to normal, several options are available to mitigate the impacts of a drought, including land idling, which pays farmers to not irrigate crops, and using groundwater water as a source for irrigation. Cannon noted, however, because groundwater levels have not recharged following heavy use in the drought of 2010, groundwater irrigation is only part of the solution.
Despite the seemingly grim outlook, Upper Klamath Lake has 150,000 acre feet more water than it did in 2010. With weather in March and April still unknown, there is a large variability in the current water outlook.
“That’s the big question: what happens the rest of March and April,” Cannon said. “But with the recent weather, it is definitely trending more towards the positive.”



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