Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Planning for the worst winter
Groundwater program begins signing up well owners for 2012 growing seasonAs winter continues with little snow falling in the region, Klamath Basin irrigators are looking to groundwater wells to supply water for their crops this growing season.
Local agencies have developed a plan that calls for well owners to pump 40,000 acre-feet of water — about 12 percent of the Klamath Reclamation Project’s annual supply — to offset a potential lack of surface water.Under the 2012 Groundwater Pumping Program, the Bureau of Reclamation will pay irrigators to pump groundwater into irrigation canals or onto their fields, if needed.
Without the groundwater pumping program, many fields could go idle if a drought occurs, said David King, a Tulelake area alfalfa farmer. Pumping well water has become costly for irrigators, as power rates have increased steeply during the past five years. The pumping program will pay well owners the cost of power to pump water plus $10 per acre-foot.King owns three wells that can provide almost 80 percent of his water needs. He hopes heavy spring snowfall will provide enough surface water so groundwater isn’t needed.
“This is just a temporary bandage,” he said about the program. “We’d like to get back to normal operations.”Waiting on weather
The program could be expanded if dry weather continues and more ground water is needed, or it could be canceled if spring snowstorms bolster water supplies, said Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Agency, which developed the program.Groundwater, however, can’t supply all the Basin’s irrigation needs, Cannon said. Many people are concerned aquifers here could be depleted, especially after irrigators pumped about 105,000 acre-feet of groundwater during a drought in 2010.
“It’s KWAPA’s goal to pump groundwater at a sustainable level,” Cannon said. “We can’t do in 2012 what we did in 2010.”Sharp drops in 2010
In 2010, the water table dropped five to 10 feet in the Tulelake Irrigation District and has not fully recharged, said Brad Kirby an employe e with the district. The city of Merrill’s drinking water well temporarily went dry when the water table in the area dropped below the well’s pumps.
The 2012 plan calls for pumping groundwater in areas normally irrigated with water from Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River. If needed, KWAPA will develop another plan to pump groundwater in Langell Valley, where Clear Lake and Gerber reservoirs usually provide irrigation water.
Merrill-area farmer Jim Carleton owns a well that can supply water to about 1,500 acres of farmland.Carleton participated in the groundwater pumping program in 2010, when about one-third of the Klamath Project’s irrigation water came from wells. The program encourages those who have wells to use them, sparing surface water for those who don’t, he said.
“It keeps the community and the whole Basin intact,” he firstname.lastname@example.org
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Page Updated: Friday March 09, 2012 11:41 PM Pacific
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