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Water forecasts worsen

Government estimates show inflow to Upper Klamath Lake is likely to be lower this summer than it was in 2001, when the Bureau of Reclamation canceled deliveries of water to much of the Klamath Reclamation Project.

Officials say they have more flexibility in managing water now than they did four years ago, but unless the weather trend changes dramatically, they will also have less water to work with.

The most recent Natural Resources Conservation Service streamflow prediction, issued Monday, calls for 210,000 acre-feet of water, or 41 percent of average, to flow into Upper Klamath Lake from April through September. In summer 2001, actual inflow was measured at 231,000 acre-feet.

Low streamflow predictions four years ago, combined with rigid requirements to protect threatened and endangered fish, caused the federal government to curtail water to the Klamath Reclamation Project. The Project headgates became the site of a summer-long protest that drew nationwide media attention.

"I'd say overall conditions are worse than they were in 2001," said Tom Perkins, a hydrologist with the Conservation Service. "It's just looking pretty grim."

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials say changes in management plans should make more water available for farmers than in 2001, but the dry conditions have prompted them to implement a drought plan that cuts off the supply for low-priority users.

While March is usually a month when the mountain snowpack is still building, it has been shrinking because of warm days, lots of sunshine and no new snow.

"It's been a warm, dry year, and that kind of spells disaster for the snowpack," Perkins said.

The snowpack Thursday was at 29 percent of normal for this time of year, down from 30 percent the day before. With every passing sunny day, the snowpack has been dropping a percentage point or two.

"It's been warm enough to melt the snowpack a bit, and we haven't had much precipitation," Perkins said.

The Conservation Service has issued streamflow forecasts every two weeks since the start of the year.

But in early April the agency will issue a forecast that will be of particular interest to Project water users. That forecast will be used by the Bureau of Reclamation to determine its operations plan for the year.

If the dry weather trend continues, Perkins said, the April forecast will be worse yet, because each forecast is based on an assumption that normal precipitation will fall.

For instance, the forecast issued Monday accounts for a spell of wet weather in the last two weeks of March.

"So if that doesn't happen, the forecast could go lower," Perkins said.

On the Net:

Mid-March streamflow forecasts

Water yield expected from April through September, in acre-feet, based on watershed conditions on March 15.

Predicted Average Percent of Actual flow

inflow inflow average in 2001

Upper Klamath Lake 210,000 515,000 41 231,000

Williamson River 180,000 385,000 47 213,000

Sprague River 110,000 230,000 48 84,000

Clear Lake 16,200 47,700 34 5,400

Gerber Reservoir 4,400 17,800 25 2,600

Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service







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

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