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Tensions rise at KID; Irrigators allege water mismanagement

by HOLLY DILLEMUTH, Herald and News 4/24/18

Klamath Irrigation District could start charging canals with water at a very low level by Friday, according to Ty Kliewer, chairman of KID.

However, an overall water allocation for the Klamath Basin Project by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) is still uncertain but anticipated to be between 205,000 and 255,000 acre feet on or before June 15; about one-fifth of the full 325,000 acre feet delivered in 2017.

The decision to charge canals could also change, pending a ruling from Judge William H. Orrick regarding water delivery for the Project. That is expected sometime Thursday or later.

Orrick hinted in court documents he could lean in the irrigators’ favor if he finds sufficient evidence to release more water. Northern California tribes along the lower Klamath River obtained a court injunction to keep 50,000 acre feet of water stored in Upper Klamath Lake to be released just for flushing the river and protecting juvenile salmon from a parasite called C. shasta.

Reclamation’s Klamath Basin area office, in coordination with PacifiCorp, is also scheduled to hold 10,500 acre feet of water in the upper lake, to be distributed to the following districts: KID, Van Brimmer Irrigation District, Klamath Drainage District and Klamath Basin Irrigation District. PacifiCorp would allow a total of 14,000 acre feet of water if called upon, according to Bob Gravely, spokesperson for PacifiCorp.

“Klamath Drainage District has said that they’re willing to live with 3,000 acre feet prior to June 1,” said BOR’s Moss Driscoll, during a special meeting of the KID board Monday. “Tulelake Irrigation District has indicated that they need an order of at most 4,000 acre feet.”

“I would want us to get whatever a fair portion is of that (10,500),” Kliewer said.

Making up the difference tough

KID has a lot more patrons without supplemental groundwater wells, according to Driscoll.

“Prior to June 1, it’s going to be next to impossible,” Driscoll said. “Normal irrigation demand (for April and May) is roughly 50,000 acre feet. All we have right now is potentially 10,500 acre feet.”
Last year, the Project, in a good water year, had a full water delivery with 320,000-325,000 acre feet of water in the Klamath Project.

“The actual adjudicated water right for the Project is 570,000 (acre feet). We don’t ever use anywhere remotely close to that, though,” Kliewer said.

If the Project gets a delivery of 250,000 acre feet, about 70,000 acre feet of groundwater will likely be needed keep districts intact.

“If you have 250,000 or better on surface water, with some groundwater supplementation, you have a feasible path to make everyone be intact,” Kliewer said. “If you get down to 200,000 then we have problems.”

Driscoll said the BOR is encouraging the court to release more water to the irrigators.

“Then we have essentially 255,000 acre feet that we can use immediately,” Driscoll said.

Tensions remain high

Despite some hope of a favorable decision for irrigators, tensions reached near boiling point Monday morning as patrons at KID and board member Grant Knoll demanded answers from the BOR.

Knoll asked Driscoll why the bureau cannot meet the dilution flow requirement of 50,000 acre feet from other sources, such as Hyatt and Howard Prairie Lakes and from PacifiCorp’s reservoirs, which are not required to give water to the Project. Knoll also alleged that Reclamation was mismanaging the Project.

“The bureau is not managing the water,” Knoll said. “We’re demanding management.”

KID officials also questioned the required flows of the Link River Dam and whether the BOR can legally deviate from calculated flows to a minimum flow of an estimated 1,325 cfs.

“They can always make a request on our operation,” Driscoll said. “I think it’s our discretion. That perspective is anticipated — the frustration,” he added.

KID members claim PacifiCorp is sending excess water down the Klamath River and that the BOR is not managing their water effectively.

“That water is basically getting stolen from us,” Kliewer said.

“The Project has the superior water right in the Basin. PacifiCorp has a junior water right to us, and right now, and the way PacifiCorp has operated, basically whatever way they want, they just take it … We are a big body of water that’s really easy to steal.”

Utility following BOR directions

Gravely said PacifiCorp is releasing 1,500 to 1,700 cubic feet per second and is just following the direction of the BOR.

“We simply release the amount of water as directed by the daily Reclamation flow schedules,” Gravely said. “We’re happy to discuss it but we’re operating as we always do with the bureau’s direction.”

Driscoll said he would take concerns addressed by patrons and board members back with him to the Reclamation office.

“We operate under a range of competing legal obligations and that’s a challenging, challenging path to navigate,” Driscoll said. “But we have to follow federal, state and local laws.”

Kliewer said the tense at times meeting is representative of rising tensions overall throughout the Project for those concerned about irrigation this summer.

“People are very worried, people are very frustrated,” Kliewer said. “You can only pull a string so far before it snaps, and I think people are getting close to the snapping point.”

While some have compared water years of 2018 and 2001 as being similar, Kliewer emphasized that one difference is an adjudicated water right that the district now holds. KID did not have this water right in 2001.

“That should help significantly,” Kliewer said. “For the time being, it has not.”

Kliewer is still holding out hope for some moisture to fall on the Project that could change the situation for the better.

Standing in the sunshine outside the irrigation district’s office on Monday, Kliewer scrolled the weather forecast on his cellphone.

The KID chairman looked ahead to rain showers expected for next week.

“That would be a fairly optimistic forecast,” Kliewer said. “Let’s see if it materializes or not.”


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