Water Resources Department announced Thursday the state
agency has taken charge of Upper Klamath Lake in Klamath
Falls, according to a Marion County Circuit Court document
obtained by Herald and News.
On April 3, Klamath Irrigation
District filed in court to “ensure that stored water is not
released out of Upper Klamath Lake reservoir through the
Link River Dam except to meet the needs of secondary water
right holders calling upon the source until the irrigation
season ends on October 31.”
OWRD Director Thomas Byler sent a
letter to Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office manager
Jeff Nettleton on Thursday, confirming it has taken
exclusive charge of the UKL for the purpose of dividing and
distributing the water therefrom in accordance with the
respective and relative rights of the various users of water
from the ditch or reservoir.
The order said it prohibits U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation from diverting stored water in Upper
Klamath Lake through Link River for purposes of a 50,000
acre-feet flushing flow without a water right.
“This is a major paradigm shift,” said
Ty Kliewer, president of the Klamath Irrigation District.
“We do have a property right that gets
taken from us and hopefully this will be the beginning of
the end of that,” he added.
Reclamation has been ordered to stop
releasing stored water from the Upper Klamath Lake reservoir
except in accordance with the relative and respective state
law rights calling upon the stored water unless and until
Reclamation provides the Department the following
information in writing:
- The timing and the rate of the
release of stored water authorized by secondary state law
rights calling upon the stored water, and the corresponding
names of the water users whose state law rights call upon
- The rate of release(s) in excess of
the needs of water users with state law rights calling on
that stored water that may be considered natural flow as
provided in ORS 540.045(3).
- Insofar as stored water is released
for a purpose other than to satisfy state law rights,
identify the dates(s) water is being released, the rate and
volume of each release, and the source(s) of legal authority
for each release.
“This is at heart a very, very simple
issue and that is, ‘Does Reclamation have the right to use
stored water in Upper Klamath Lake or does that right belong
to the irrigators of the Project?” Kliewer said.
“The ruling today was specific to
KID’s request, but this will benefit all Project
irrigators,” Kliewer said.
The order from OWRD also stated that
federal agencies are not relieved from any and all
obligations to comply with federal law and related federal
agency regulations or federal court orders as may be
relevant to release of water from UKL.
Laura Williams, public information
officer for Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office for
Bureau of Reclamation, said that KBAO has received the order
in writing from OWRD.
“We’re responding to that order,”
“We’re required to do what our purpose
is, which is to provide water to the irrigators and comply
with ESA (Endangered Species Act), and that’s what we’re
doing to the best of our ability.”