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Bureau: Inflow will be light, but we'll get by

Dan Nelson, a ditch rider for Klamath Irrigation District, clears debris from the B canal east of Klamath Falls Monday. Ditch riders, who oversee deliveries to irrigators, have until mid-April to get the canal system ready.

Published April 6, 2004


The latest streamflow forecast indicates reservoirs in the Klamath Basin will likely get far less than the average amount of inflow this year.

But officials at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation say they should still be able to fulfill tribal trust responsibilities and meet the needs of endangered species and irrigators.

"We've received the forecast of the National Resources Conservation Service, which indicates that this year will be a below-average water year," said Dave Sabo, Klamath Reclamation Project manager, in a press release.

The forecast means that - barring an unforeseen major change, such as blast of high heat or a deluge of rain - the coming irrigation season should be slightly better than last year, Sabo said.

"It would really have to drop off, or we would have to get a whole lot more rain or snow" for any changes in the water supply to occur, he said in a telephone interview Monday.

Upper Klamath Lake, the Klamath Project's primary reservoir, should get about 420,000 acre-feet of inflow, or 82 percent of its 30-year average, from April to September, according to the NRCS.

In managing Project water, the Bureau uses a more conservative forecasting formula. But Sabo said the Bureau should still be able to meet its various obligations for water deliveries.

A below-average year for Upper Klamath Lake, as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is one that yields between 312,000 and 500,000 acre-feet of inflow.

Last year's total inflow totaled about 320,000 acre-feet.

A wet spring, followed by a crash of inflow in June and then a September storm caused the Bureau's water year classification for the lake to bob up and down from dry to below-average. The year started dry, then went to below average, back to dry and then up to below average again.

The June crash of inflow almost caused Sabo to call for a five-day shutdown of Project water deliveries so the lake would make its required level for the end of the month. An agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service to adjust the requirements based on a month that was half dry and half below-average kept the irrigation water flowing.

Because this year's prediction is right in the middle of the range for a below-average year, Sabo said there probably shouldn't be any switching of water year types.

But the Bureau is still going to keep close tabs on inflow, and has asked the Conservation Service for mid-month updates through July.

Water started flowing through Project canals Friday, and the Klamath Irrigation District this week sent ditch riders to clear weeds and adjust flows to get the system ready for the start of irrigation season. The season usually starts on April 15.

Dan Nelson, a ditch rider who was working on the B canal Monday, said farmers, ranchers and others often ask him about how much water will be flowing through the irrigation system for the season.

He said he can't offer them too much of an answer.

"Mainly, we know what they know," he said. "It depends on so many different things - the water, the snowpack."

People on the Project's east side know it could be another tight year because of low a snowpack.

The east side, which is fed by Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir, is predicted to have a better year than last year, but things still look dry.

"The snowpack is pretty much gone from those areas," said Jolyne Lea, a hydrologist with Conservation Service who crunches the numbers that make the forecast.

Snowpack for the Basin is at 92 percent of average, but most of that is on the Cascade side.

Clear Lake is predicted to get 25,000 acre-feet of inflow, or 61 percent of average, from April through July, and Gerber Reservoir is predicted to get 8,000 acre-feet, or 47 percent of average, during the same time period.

John Nichols, manager of the Langell Valley Irrigation District, one of the east side's larger districts, said the district board is going to meet tonight to decide whether there needs to be any curtailment of deliveries this year.

Last year, the board lowered the allocation from 3 acre-feet per acre per customer to 2.5 acre-feet and some customers voluntarily switched to ground water to ease demand.

He said things should be especially touchy for the part of the district supplied by Clear Lake.

Although Clear Lake is predicted to get more inflow than Gerber Reservoir, it was originally was designed as an evaporation pool, so warm temperatures can quickly sap its supplies.

"It will going to be real touch and go on the Clear Lake side because of the evaporation rate," Nichols said.

Sabo said the Bureau will release its operations plan, or its blueprint for managing project water over the irrigation season, Wednesday.

Wednesday night, Sabo is set to speak at a public meeting hosted by the Klamath Water Users Association at the Klamath County Fairgrounds' blue building. The meeting, which will give water users an overview of what could be to come this irrigation season, is scheduled for 7 p.m.


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