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KID delays project irrigation season

by HOLLY DILLEMUTH, Herald and News 2/11/18

A drought year similar to 2015’s dry conditions are anticipated by the Klamath Irrigation District, and without the financial resources available in 2015, as well as at least a week delay in water delivery to Klamath Project irrigators in April, according to Ty Kliewer, board president, on Friday.

With snow pack levels at approximately 33 percent of normal for the year and a projected drought yet to be declared in Klamath County, the A Canal headgates will be opened April 16 — normally they are opened April 1. Water delivery normally begins April 15, and that will be delayed until April 23 this season.

Kliewer said the irrigation system will be charged a bit quicker than normal due to the water delay, allowing less seepage than normal.

The decision to delay the irrigation season for on-project irrigators comes from a vote by KID’s board of directors on Thursday. The resolution is one part of a unified plan by the Klamath Water Users Association to mitigate the impact from a court-ordered injunction that requires holding back 50,000 acre feet in Upper Klamath Lake for dilution flows to the Klamath River.

Dilution flows are required when C. shasta — a type of parasite native to the Klamath River Basin that can infect fish — is found in the amount of more than five per liter of water sampled, or more than 20 percent of out-migrating Chinook salmon found to infected with C. shasta, according to BOR officials.

“As a project, everyone sacrifices, everyone puts the best effort forward,” Kliewer said, “and, we’ll see what happens from here.”

Kliewer said if conditions don’t change for the better, the project could see a drought scenario similar or worse than 2015.

“In 2015, we had funding for groundwater, and we had funding for some easement mitigation for idling land,” Kliewer said. “We have none of that available right now, and that is extremely worrisome to me at minimum.

Other irrigation districts are considering passing similar measures to delay water delivery in response to drought concerns, according to Scott White, executive director of KWUA.

“We’re trying to identify a hodge-podge of opportunities to make up the difference in that 50,000 acre feet that’s required for dilution flows,” White said.

“My hope is very shortly to have a plan ready to implement those dilution flows should that be needed. That plan would minimize impact to the project as a result.”

But nothing that relates to irrigation this year is certain, according to White.

“We are actively seeking opportunities, through Congress, through the administration, or any opportunity for federal assistance for those types of programs, or programs that could aid or again mitigate impacts to the water users this year,” White added.

“We don’t have federal assistance this year and that’s always something that got us through these drought years, with relative levels of peace in the valley,” he added.

“Hydraulically, we are tracking with 2015 so hopefully we do start getting the precipitation ... it’s really hard to envision what 2018 is going to look like,” White added.

With further reflection, White emphasized even 2015 might not be the best comparison for the current water year, more because of how dry 2018 looks to be.

“In my mind, I’m not sure that there’s another year in history that looks very close to what 2018 is shaping up to be,” White said. “That really begs to question what is going to happen, and I think that can, in itself, offer fear and panic, and as much as I don’t want that to happen and it shouldn’t happen, I can definitely see that kind of stuff occurring. I don’t really know what to think right now. We just continue to hope and pray that we continue to get some precipitation, anything is going to be helpful. Not just for us, but for all the people that rely on water in the Basin.”

White met with and shared his concerns with Alan Mikkelsen, senior advisor to Secretary Of the Department of the Interior Ryan Zinke, during his visit to the Basin last week.

While much of the conversation hinged around drought, White emphasized that while water users are still committed to finding a settlement agreement, survival is paramount.

“We’re still interested in a comprehensive approach to solving these problems,” White said. “However, if we’re not around after this year, we’re not going to be around to have those conversations. We’re looking to survive so we can have those conversations.

“I am concerned for a lot of the family farmers and ranchers in the Basin,” White said.

“I can’t tell you if it’s going to be all of them or some of them or a few of them, but I am definitely concerned. I mean, commodities markets aren’t great. There’s no assistance, and potentially there’s going to be impact to water deliveries.

“I have a very hard time sleeping at night,” White added.

Water and lack thereof is something that dominates Kliewer’s thoughts while he’s awake, Kliewer said.

“I’m very worried for my community and my neighbors,” Kliewer said.

But cooperation between districts in the project, facilitated by water users, is a big help in the face of water uncertainty, according to Kliewer.

“Everyone in the project being on the same page is a very good thing,” Kliewer said.

Kliewer also holds out hope the weather in coming months could change.

“What I’m hoping and praying is it’s going to turn around and rain like hell,” Kliewer said, “which, it has before, and that could save the day and put us in a fairly normal situation.

“A phrase I at least try to live by is have faith, you’ll be provided for and that hasn’t let me down,” Kliewer added.

Klamath County Commissioners may consider a drought declaration this week.



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