Bureau of Reclamation altars water plan - Klamath now designated a "dry" year instead of "below average"

Dan Keppen
Siskiyou Daily News


TULELAKE, ORE - Faced with reduced inflows and an arbitrary target lake level in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biological Opinion, federal agencies have altered the water year designation in the Klamath Basin from a "below average" year to a "dry" year.

The change, recognizing the current weather pattern in the basin, will allow more water from Upper Klamath Lake to be used for irrigation. Minimum lake levels are set by the federal government for sucker fish, and the level can be lower during a "dry" year compared to a "below average" year.

Jeff McCracken, of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, issued a press release Thursday afternoon indicating the action is based on the latest Upper Klamath Lake inflow forecast by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and on information provided by the Oregon Water Resources Department, which forecast flows remaining below 312,000 acre-feet, thereby meeting a dry year classification.

Klamath Project irrigators have taken action to reduce diversions by an average of 20 percent during the remainder of July and August. Diversions, which were running at 1,650 cubic feet per second or higher, will be reduced to an average of 1,350 cfs for the remainder of those months.

The bureau will also notify NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries, formerly known as the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), that it has complied with the requirement in its biological opinion for the provision of a water bank. However, because of the severe change in climatic conditions, the BOR will not be able to provide supplemental flows for the July and August time frame. Therefore, the river flows for the remainder of July and August will be held to a "below average" year requirement as specified in the NOAA Fisheries biological opinion.

Of principal concern is maintaining the target lake level elevation in the Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion for the end of July, which is 4,140.3 feet, and these reductions will keep the lake level at least one-tenth of a foot higher than the biological opinion requires.

"We're pleased to see that Reclamation has made this good, common sense decision," Dan Keppen of the Klamath Water Users Association said. "When they made their original year type decision in June, we were experiencing 92 percent inflows in Upper Klamath Lake, two weeks later, we were experiencing near zero inflows.

"Oregon Water Resources believes we will be experiencing dry conditions until December," Keppen continued. "This common sense decision is coupled with an aggressive effort by the irrigation community to reduce outflows from Upper Klamath Lake through voluntary reduced usage, groundwater substitution, and in some cases complete curtailment. It's a great group effort by Reclamation and the Klamath Irrigation community to avoid violating an Endangered Species Act lake level."

Earl Danosky, Tulelake Irrigation District manager also said this is a positive move.

"This is a good thing, it gives us a little room and will help later," he said.

As reported last week, the releases at Irongate Dam have consistently exceeded the Operations Plan schedule since they began May 22. More than 31,800 acre feet of water above and beyond the Operation Plan have been released downstream in June. - By Pat Ratliff


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