hit leaves Klamath dry
level, plus required river flow delay water deliveries
irrigation season is proving troublesome for Klamath Basin farmers
even before it's begun.
The amount of water stored in Upper Klamath Lake is insufficient
to meet federal fish habitat standards, prompting the U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation to delay water deliveries to irrigators.
"Basically, what we're up against is a tough water year," said
Luther Horsley, president of the Klamath Water Users Association.
"We're going to have to be as conservative as possible to make it
through the year."
Stream flow into the Upper Klamath Lake is projected to be roughly
30 percent below average this season, and the lake is roughly one
foot below the minimum level set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to protect endangered fish.
"There's too much demand for the supply we have here," said Kevin
Moore, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Basin
The idea is to allow lake levels to build up through mid-April so
irrigation won't need to be interrupted later in the season, Moore
"If we delay for two weeks, we'll have enough water for operations
for the rest of the year," he said. "Of course, in this business
there's no such thing as a guarantee."
Ironically, another federal fish habitat standard set forth by the
National Marine Fisheries Service is contributing to depleted lake
levels, Horsley said.
In 2002, the agency issued a biological opinion requiring 1,725
cubic feet of water per second to be released from the Iron Gate
Dam along the Klamath River, which draws water from the Upper
Klamath Lake and other tributaries.
"These biological opinions are uncoordinated," said Greg Addington,
executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association.
"There's very little coordination between federal agencies."
Water levels in the Upper Klamath Lake are low due to inadequate
inflow last month, not because of irrigation diversions, he said.
In essence, the biological opinion regarding Endangered Species
Act protections for coho salmon in the Klamath River trumped the
biological opinion aimed at protecting endangered suckers in the
Upper Klamath Lake, said Addington.
"The ESA violated itself in February," he said.
The lack of a coordinated strategy creates tremendous uncertainty
for farmers, Addington said.
If the Klamath Basin continues to experience dry weather in early
spring, that could heighten farmers' need for water and strain
supplies once deliveries begin, said Horsley.
"The delay in the startup could create initial demand greater than
normal, which could play harder on those lake levels," he said.
Fortunately, snowpack levels in the Klamath Basin are not
significantly below average this year.
Snowpacks in the region are at about 92 percent of average,
according to the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
That's roughly 15 percent below the peak level expected by early
April, according to NRCS.
However, relatively adequate snow levels won't help the current
situation if temperatures remain low at high elevations and freeze
up stream flow, said Horsley.
"It's going to come down eventually, but it's not going to come
down and fill those lakes soon enough to start diversions," he
Staff writer Mateusz Perkowski is based in Salem, Ore. E-mail: