Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Managing Klamath River complicated; recent flow change offers an example
Current goal of filling lake the proper focus
Herald and News Editorial 2/13/11
River flows are a controversial subject in the Klamath Basin. That reflects the complexity of managing the Klamath River, which involves federal agencies, irrigators, land owners, Indian tribes, state agencies, a power producer and complex legal agreements.
To help settle an issue that developed when PacifiCorp complained it didn’t get adequate notice of reduced river flows — which affects power generated from the power company’s four dams — a variable flow approach was adopted after consultation between the power company and the other parties.
Under terms of the agreement announced Wednesday, the Bureau of Reclamation sent a six-hour pulse of higher water to wash salmon-endangering parasites downriver from below Iron Gate Dam, the dam farthest downriver from Klamath Falls.
Decisions on the river attract keen interest. Ours is in seeing plenty of water in Upper Klamath Lake, the principle irrigation reservoir for the Klamath Reclamation Project.
The status of the river and Upper Klamath Lake is always a concern to people in the upper Klamath Basin because of the importance of agriculture, which depends on irrigation. Downriver, and among tribes all along the river, there is an intense concern for fish.
Debate often goes on over how much water should go downriver during the winter to help salmon and how much should be retained in Upper Klamath Lake for later use, both for irrigation and to benefit suckers, another fish under the special protection of the Endangered Species Act.
Debate still there
There is still debate over the flows last winter and the eventual impact on the water available for irrigation during the summer, when irrigators got less than half the normal amount.
Wednesday’s increase from 1,600 cubic feet per second to 5,000 was carried out without significant criticism.
Greg Addington, executive director for the Klamath Basin Water Users Association, which represents water users on the five irrigation districts on the 240,000-acre federal project, said the lake’s “in good shape now.
“That’s a lot of water (going downriver), but I don’t feel like the lake is in jeopardy of not filling because of it.”
A similar feeling was expressed by Jason Phillips, area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin office.
That’s reassuring, but it’s hard not to notice the lack of snow in the hills. After a fast start in December, snowfall tailed off significantly. Rain came instead, which washed away much of the snow.
The federal agencies know that, of course, and monitor the snowpack and water supplies and are still optimistic.
We hope it continues to look good and water management continues to focus on having a full Upper Klamath Lake on April 1. The water supply on that date largely determines how much water is sent downriver and how much can be used for irrigation. The more water in the lake, the easier the decision making will be.
Page Updated: Wednesday February 16, 2011 03:39 AM Pacific
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