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Extreme drought conditions force closure of Klamath Project’s “A” Canal

Bureau of Reclamation News Release 5/12/21

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Increasing extreme drought conditions in combination with operations for threatened and endangered species will further reduce Klamath Project water supplies to historically low volumes in 2021. Given the insufficiency of the expected water supply, the Bureau of Reclamation announced today that Klamath Project’s “A” Canal will remain closed for the 2021 irrigation season. In coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, Reclamation also announced that a Klamath River surface flushing flow for salmon will not be implemented this year. Reclamation will continue its process to update the Klamath Project 2021 Temporary Operations Plan to adjust project operations for threatened and endangered species.

“This year’s drought conditions are bringing unprecedented hardship to the communities of the Klamath Basin. We have closely monitored the water conditions in the area and the unfortunate deterioration of the forecasted hydrology. This has resulted in the historic consequence of not being able to operate a majority of the Klamath Project this year,” said Reclamation Deputy Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Reclamation is dedicated to working with our water users, tribes, and partners to get through this difficult year and developing long-term solutions for the basin.”

The Temporary Operations Plan was developed after consultation with water users and tribes based on the best available information at that time, which included the April 1 Natural Resources Conservation Service forecast for inflows to Upper Klamath Lake. The plan proposed an initial water supply allocation for the Klamath Project of 33,000 acre-feet and a potential for more. It also included a possible surface flushing flow in the Klamath River to benefit out-migrating salmon.

Hydrologic conditions have since worsened with the May 1 NRCS forecast for Upper Klamath Lake inflow at 85,000 acre-feet below what was reported on April 1. Additionally, most of the 33,000 acre-feet water supply allocation is expected to be consumed through unauthorized diversions at private facilities along the Klamath River and Upper Klamath Lake. These diversions, unless curtailed, together with Reclamation’s Endangered Species Act obligations, limit the remaining Klamath Project water supply.

The projected remaining Klamath Project water supply will not be sufficient for operating the “A” Canal. The canal, a major component of the Klamath Project, typically provides access to Upper Klamath Lake water supplies for over 130,000 acres of farmland. Use of the “A” Canal without adequately charging it would present significant safety risks to the urbanized portions that run through downtown Klamath Falls.

In accordance with the Klamath Project 2021 Temporary Operations Plan, a meet and confer process was triggered in April to determine whether to release a surface flushing flow for the benefit of salmon. The result of that process was that a surface flushing flow will not be implemented in 2021.

Reclamation continues its efforts to seek input and develop the best path forward for Klamath Project operations for threatened and endangered species obligations in 2021. The worsening forecast has revealed that anticipated water supplies may be insufficient to meet the year’s remaining operational requirements for threatened and endangered species, including Upper Klamath Lake elevations for suckers and minimum flows below Iron Gate Dam for salmon. In collaboration with the Service and NOAA Fisheries, and consultation with the tribes, Reclamation plans to adjust the Temporary Operations Plan when and if necessary. Operations for Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges, which will not receive Klamath Project water this year, will also be addressed.  

To help mitigate the impacts of this year’s historic low water supply, Reclamation has previously committed $15 million in immediate aid to project water users through the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency. An additional $3 million in technical assistance will be available to tribes for ecosystem activities in the Klamath Basin. These efforts supplement additional funding provided by Reclamation and other Department of the Interior bureaus. The distribution of drought relief funds is expected to begin next month.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also previously announced the availability of funding for the Klamath Basin drought relief efforts.

The Klamath Project 2021 Temporary Operations Plan is available at https://www.ubr.gov/mp/kbao/.

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The Bureau of Reclamation is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior and is the nation's largest wholesale water supplier and second largest producer of hydroelectric power. Our facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation opportunities, and environmental benefits. Visit our website at https://www.usbr.gov and follow us on Twitter @USBR; Facebook @bureau.of.reclamation; LinkedIn @Bureau of Reclamation; Instagram @bureau_of_reclamation; and YouTube @reclamation.



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