Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Groundwater aquifers under stress. Families drilling deeper to reach precious water supply
A Merrill family went without water for nearly a month after a surge of irrigation pumping caused the well at their home to run dry.
Susan Petterson and her husband, Tom, have lived in Merrill for about 17 years and have never experienced anything like it, she said.With the help of the Klamath Water and Power Association (KWAPA) Domestic and Municipal Well Mitigation Program, the couple drilled their 80-foot well to a new depth of 200 feet. In July, 10 other families applied for the program, which pays qualifying applicants up to 75 percent of costs up to $10,000 to deepen or drill new wells.
According to KWAPA Executive Director Hollie Cannon, the combination of consecutive drought years and new rules in place to protect endangered fish in the Klamath watershed means irrigators are given less surface water, forcing them to turn to groundwater. The problem is that persistent drought has lowered the water table in some areas, making it harder for aquifers feeding shallow residential wells to stay charged.According to KWAPA mitigation plan documents, a combination of below-average precipitation, dry soil moisture and use of the supplemental wells resulted in a 25- to 30-foot drop in the elevation of some groundwater aquifers. “A big piece of the picture is opportunity to recharge precipitation — without it the groundwater can’t recover,” Cannon said. “We’re in a year where the withdrawals are a lot more than the deposits.”
“We are 10 to 15 feet below the 2001 (groundwater) levels,” Cannon said. “The only year the groundwater has had a decline of this magnitude was 2010. The difference is we started from a lower level from 2010.”Record lows
According to an Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) July groundwater review, most of the July 2014 measurements are lower than the lowest 2010 and/or 2013 measurements. A test well 2 miles east of Malin was 6.95 feet below the lowest 2013 measurement and 9.51 feet below the lowest 2010 measurement, the report said. In the Midland area, another test well was 2.32 feet below the lowest 2013 measurement and 1.44 feet below the lowest 2010 measurement.Graphs from the OWRD groundwater review show that since about 2001, water levels in Oregon wells near the Oregon and California state line are in a notable downward trend. According to Ivan Gall, OWRD groundwater section manager, continued drought conditions have created surface water shortages, forcing irrigators to use groundwater rights more frequently and for longer periods of time.
Gall said groundwater levels in the state line area, on either side of the Oregon-California border, are influenced by pumping wells located in both states.“The trend is an indication that the amount of groundwater being pumped exceeds the rate at which groundwater is recharging into the aquifer,” he said.
Domestic well historyCannon pointed out many of the Project’s domestic wells were drilled years ago, some in the early 1900s. He said before the 1950s and ‘60s very little groundwater was used — wells only had to tunnel down 10 to 20 feet to hit a water-bearing layer. Now that high levels of water are being pumped, the groundwater is dropping below levels where it was historically static.
According to Cannon, Oregon has a 25-foot limit for drawdown in groundwater wells. He said when the OWRD issued the Project’s groundwater rights, they contained conditions limiting the amount wells can be depleted.“Because of the lack of a coordinated water policy, groundwater has been used extensively,” Cannon said. “If something doesn’t change in the next year or two, it’s likely a large number of (irrigation) wells will be regulated.”
Bonnie Grant-Alexander and her husband, Charles, of Merrill, are awaiting a decision still on their KWAPA well mitigation program application. Bonnie said since early summer the couple has had to plan which water sources at their home can be used at certain times of the day.When their watercooled air is running, only one outside faucet can be used. Low water also causes their pump to cycle air, which reduces the times they can use water for highvolume activities such as showering.
Bonnie said she doesn’t begrudge the irrigators who need water to grow food, but the pumping definitely puts a toll on domestic wells.“That kind of leaves the domestic wells high and dry,” she said.
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BOR, PacifiCorp reach agreement on reservoir releasesLast week, the Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Falls Area Office and PacifiCorp announced PacifiCorp could release up to 20,000 acre-feet of water to help water shortages in the Klamath Project.
The water will come from two of PacifiCorp’s Klamath River hydroelectric reservoirs, according to a news release.Although some Klamath Project irrigation water will continue to be restricted, the proposal could allow the BOR to extend the Project’s water supplies from Upper Klamath Lake to the close of the irrigation season, the release said.
The reservoir releases will maintain conditions required to ensure Upper Klamath Lake remains above specified minimum elevations for endangered fish, the release said.“We appreciate the collaboration and coordination shown by PacifiCorp and the support for this proposal expressed by our federal partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. This proposal is an opportunity to positively contribute to the health of federally listed fish species in Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River, supports tribal interests, and will prove beneficial to Project irrigators for the 2014 water year during these critical drought conditions,” said Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Deputy Regional Director Jason Phillips.
Page Updated: Saturday August 16, 2014 01:09 PM Pacific
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