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by Sara Hottman, Herald and News 3/3/11


     The biological opinion that officials feared would prematurely lower Upper Klamath Lake levels has been revised, reducing Klamath River flow requirements by 30 percent.


   Jason Phillips, area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, said in an e-mail that the new levels “… will also provide increased certainty that the elevation of Upper Klamath Lake will stay above the (Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion) minimum for March of 4,142.2 feet.


   “This should allow for irrigation deliveries to start on April 1.”


   Phillips said in January he hoped to revise the biological opinion, which required flows of more than 3,300 cubic feet per second in March, just before the start of the watering season.


   Two variables determine water deliveries to Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators and   wildlife refuges: weather and biological opinions. Weather is unpredictable, but biological opinions have been predictably ominous, requiring certain lake levels and river flows regardless of water conditions.  


   50 percent drier


   The Klamath Basin’s last growing season followed a winter that was 50 percent drier than normal, so irrigators and refuges suffered the impacts of reduced or no water deliveries.


   “We’re optimistic that (the Bureau is) making a lot of progress related to March,” said Greg Addington, director of the Klamath Water Users Association, adding, “For us it doesn’t end with March. We’re concerned about water leaving the lake in April.”


   Phillips hopes revising Klamath River flow requirements will make the biological opinions more manageable.


   He changed the requirements in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, which wrote the Klamath River opinion for coho salmon, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which wrote the Upper Klamath Lake opinion for sucker.


   This year the National Resource Conservation Service forecasts normal precipitation and stream flows.


   “The lake level is better, the snowpack is better,” Addington said. “Unfortunately, with the status quo of the Klamath Project, that’s not always good enough.  


   “We still have biological opinions, which mean we still have minimum lake levels for the suckers, we still have minimum flow requirements for coho salmon.”    

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              Page Updated: Friday March 04, 2011 04:32 AM  Pacific

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