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Water forecasts bode a tight supply this season

H&N Staff Writer

As irrigation season draws closer, the summer streamflow forecasts are getting worse.

"It isn't good," said Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District. "Things haven't gotten any better. Time is getting shorter now for things to recover."

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, the federal agency in charge of forecasting streamflow from snow runoff in the Klamath Basin and around the country, came out with a mid-month forecast last week.

As in the first Basin forecast released at the start of the new year, streamflow looks to be well below average.

The latest forecast is for 309,000 acre-feet of water, or 60 percent of water to flow into Upper Klamath Lake between April and September. The lake is the main reservoir for the Klamath Reclamation Project.

There are now two more streamflow forecasts before the April 1 forecast, which is a key piece in the Project officials' determination of year type for Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River. The year type will come out in the Bureau's operation plan in early April.

So far, it's looking like both will be classified as "dry" this year, said Dave Sabo, Project manager. The plan will also detail irrigation deliveries for the season, which runs from April to mid-October.

Although snow and rain didn't develop as Project officials had hoped, there still is time for a turnaround.

"You still have a month and a half to go," he said.

But since the forecasts started a month and a half ago, the streamflow predictions have been going down. They have dropped by 25,000 acre-feet in each of the two weeks between the three forecasts made so far.

"This is going to be a really tight year," Sabo said.

Water users need to be ready if the weather doesn't cooperate with improving streamflow forecasts, he said. They should plan their crops accordingly and be prepared to take conservation measures.

The dropping forecasts are a result of light precipitation throughout the winter so far, said Jon Lea, a hydrologist with the Conservation Service. "There have just been a couple of sputterings of snowfall and rain," he said.

As of Tuesday, the Basin's snowpack was at 50 percent of average.

"What's needed to get the snowpack up would be massive snowfall," he said. "We are getting to the point where we are at the whim of mother nature to provide timely inputs."

Those would include spring rains and summer showers.

Even if snow and rain come, Sabo said he is concerned streamflow could drop off partway through the irrigation season, not matching the forecasts. The phenomenon has happened the past two years, with inflows falling off in late June, and officials are still working on ways to improve the forecasting system.

"If inflows drop off even earlier, like in May, then it is going to get very serious," he said.

Part of the problem is the unpredictability of weather, Sabo said. If the weather predictions don't hold then neither do the streamflow forecasts.

"Unfortunately, we have to use something that is not a very good tool," he said.

The Basin is small and there is little water storage for carryover from one year to the next, making it dependent on the snowpack in the mountains.

"It is real dependent on the winter being a good winter, and if it's not, it's tough to get through," Sabo said.

This winter has been a poor one, he said.

Solem said the weather conditions have not been what anybody expected or hoped for.

"They are pretty bleak," he said. "The window for conditions to get better is getting smaller."




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

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