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Irrigators asked to scale back usage. Shutoffs could start on June 1 if water draws continue
“From the start of the irrigation season, March 1, approximately 26,000 acre-feet has been delivered from Upper Klamath Lake to the Klamath Project,” said Brian Person, acting manager for the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) Klamath Basin Area Office.In April, Person recommended Project irrigators divert no more than 50,000 acre-feet before May 31. The recommendation to keep diversions to a minimum in April and May is meant to ensure required Upper Klamath Lake water levels and Klamath River instream flows are met.
The flows are required by a 10-year joint biological opinion crafted by two federal agencies to protect threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River and endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers in Upper Klamath Lake.Based on the BOR data, irrigators have already used more than half the water volume recommended by the agency. Last week, Klamath Irrigation District (KID) Manager Mark Stuntebeck released a statement stating that KID is asking its irrigators to “do anything they can to reduce overall demand or diversion of water from Upper Klamath Lake between now and May 31,” such as to increase time between irrigations, irrigate one field at a time, and work with less water when flood irrigating.
Most importantly, the statement emphasized, irrigators should turn off surface diversions and turn on their groundwater pumps.“If the Project has to shut down in mid- to late-May, it’s probably going to have a negative effect,” said KID board member Ed Bair. “It’s going to increase demand in June and compound the problem. If we can continue to have some reliable supply of water, even if it’s just a little bit tardy to what the needs of the irrigators are, I think we’d be better off.”
According to Stuntebeck, KID ditchriders — drivers who travel the Project canal system to turn on or turn off irrigation water — are currently allowed to only deliver a limited amount of water. If water is unavailable, ditchriders may have to rotate or delay water orders. Stuntebeck said water managers are asking irrigators to cooperate so efficient deliveries can be continued.“This is a plea to irrigators to do anything they can,” Stuntebeck said. “Once we get past the end of May, or projections show lake thresholds will be met, irrigation deliveries will become more normal.”
Bair, who is also chairman of the Klamath Water and Power Agency (KWAPA ) board of directors, urged eligible irrigators to sign up for KWAPA’s water demand program and choose to “idle” land and be paid in return for not irrigating or growing crops.“It just makes good sense this year,” he said.
KWAPA water demand contracts must be submitted no later than May 15. KWAPA Executive Director Hollie Cannon said as of late last week, irrigators had contracted to idle more than 16,000 acres.“That’s more than last year, but about 50 percent of what needs to be done,” Cannon said.
Bair emphasized that irrigators, himself included, need to understand the extreme conditions being faced in the field.“I’d encourage people to use their best judgment; most of them are good farmers and they know what their needs are,” Bair said. “I encourage them to minimize water use as much as possible.”
Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, noted that although current diversion rates are eating away at the 50,000 acre-foot threshold, deliveries are still well below average. He said that is remarkable given how dry it is.”Addington said he believes it’s possible for irrigators to stay within the BOR’s recommended volume.
“It’s doable, but I think people need to take this year seriously,” he said. “It’s going to be challenging.”BOR acting manager Person said as of Monday, no change in the supply available to the Project had been made; however, BOR continues to coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to explore what, if any, opportunities exist to provide flexibility in managing available water supplies.
ljarrell@heraldandnews . com; @LMJatHandN
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