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Counting on every drop of irrigation water

Regional irrigators expect to have enough
water for the growing season this year


Even with a wet winter our region does not, for the most part, have abundant water in irrigation reservoirs.

Still, most irrigators in Klamath, Lake, Modoc and eastern Siskiyou counties expect to have enough water for this year's growing season.

The Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Project gets a lot of attention, but smaller irrigation districts also depend on precious water, mostly for alfalfa and pasture grasslands.

Klamath County watermaster Del Sparks said irrigation water should be available in the county, at least until later in the year when water levels are expected to be low.

Sparks said this week he has yet to check water levels at the Drews and Lost River reservoirs.

"Most of the spring runoff has soaked into the ground, which means the springs feeding the river should be ample, at least until late in the season," he said.

Wet soils have helped keep the springs flowing throughout the region, water managers have said.

Jerry Wendland, watermaster for the South Fork Irrigation District, said water flows are about 300 acre-feet per minute. He expects that to increase.

South Fork irrigates 12,900 acres from the West Valley Reservoir south of Alturas, which has a capacity of 23,000 acre-feet. It currently holds about 20,000 acre-feet.

Last year, there was only about 14,700 acre-feet in the reservoir, and the level did not reach 20,000 acre-feet until June.

"We got lots of moisture in November from some storms and from snowpack from the Warner Mountain Range," Wendland said.

About 11 ranchers use the water to raise alfalfa and pasture grasses. There is some cultivation of rice, garlic and onions, too.

The Roberts Reservoir, near Likely, Calif., provides water for 5,500 acres of alfalfa and pasture grasses in southern Modoc and northern Lassen counties.

Irrigator Peter Gerig, who has units of ownership in the Big Valley Mutual Water Co., said water levels in the reservoir are the best they have been in the last five years.

"It's full, right up to the brink of the spill way," Gerig said. "Roberts Reservoir is as good as it could be."

The water, which eventually pours into the Pit River, is used on an as-needed basis by area irrigators.

"If someone wants (water)," Gerig said, "He tells me when to open it, and to close it when he is done."

The Butte Valley Irrigation District, based in Macdoel, uses well water which is piped to its 20 or so water users, along with water from Butte Creek.

Joe Sammis, district watermaster, said water levels were "pretty good," though the district has not had ample well water for five years.

Water users grow alfalfa and grain, and strawberry nurseries raise plants which are sold to California growers.

Unlike most irrigation districts, Butte Valley uses no water-delivery ditches. Since last year, district water has been delivered through a system of pipes.

The system was built over a period of years. Drainage ditches collect excess irrigation water, which from there pours into Meiss Lake.

In Lake County's Goose Lake Valley, which includes the town of Lakeview, Lakeview Water Users Inc. supplies 44,000 acre-feet each year to irrigators in Westside and New Idaho, said manager George Cobian.

These regions have 11,500 acres of alfalfa and pasture grasses that are irrigated by the Drews Reservoir (62,500 acre-feet capacity) and Cottonwood Reservoir (9,300 acre-feet).

Cobian said Drews Reservoir is about two-thirds full, but Cottonwood Reservoir has been spilling for more than a month.

"We expect to have enough water for the entire growing season," Cobian said. Water rights from the state stipulate that they may use the water only until the end of September.

In north Lake County, the Silver Lake Irrigation District provides water to 2,708 acres which is used to grow alfalfa and pasture grasses.

Thompson Reservoir, with an 18,000-acre-foot capacity, is about two-thirds full, enough for the entire season, said Tom O'Leary, member of the district board of directors.

Runoff drains into swamp ground, which is used for grazing.


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

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