Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

KWUA Klamath Water Users Association

Phone 541 883 6100

November 22, 2022

Ernest Conant, Regional Director
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, California-Great Basin Region
2800 Cottage Way
Sacramento, CA 95825-1898

Paul Souza, Regional Director
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
2800 Cottage Way
Sacramento, CA 95825-1898

Scott Rumsey, Ph.D., Acting Regional Administrator
National Marine Fisheries Service, West Coast Region
1201 Northeast Lloyd Boulevard, Suite 1100
Portland, OR 97232

Subject: A Plan to Fill Upper Klamath Lake

To the Federal Agencies:

Upper Klamath Lake is not filling and all projections are for that condition to persist well into
2023. Three years of conflict, controversy, and hardship in the Klamath Basin have demonstrated that, in
the wake of the current ongoing drought, simply continuing the present rate of releases out of Upper
Klamath Lake is the worst possible outcome for fish, wildlife, and humans alike. The U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation has conceded as much with its recent initiation of the meet-and-confer process under the
Interim Operations Plan.

The purpose of this letter is to provide the Federal Agencies with a specific, objective plan for how
to fill Upper Klamath Lake. Please see the attachment to this letter. Admittedly, the action required now
would constitute a significant reduction in river flows compared to current levels, but that condition is the
result of a failure to act before now. Moreover, failure to take immediate action now only further
compounds the problem that has already been created. It is well past time to act.

Klamath Water Users Association looks forward to working with you on this matter.


G. Moss Driscoll
Director of Water Policy

Phone (541) 883-6100 Fax (541) 883-8893 ~ 2312 South Sixth Street, Suite A, Klamath Falls, Oregon 97601


Phone (541) 883-6100 Fax (541) 883-8893 ~ 2312 South Sixth Street, Suite A, Klamath Falls, Oregon 97601

November 22, 2022

A Plan to Fill the Lake

Upper Klamath Lake Is Not Filling

On November 10, 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) provided tribal and
agricultural stakeholders with an update on hydrology in the Klamath Basin – the news was not
good for the third straight year; the agency’s response was even more problematic.
All indications are that federal agencies are on a path to recreate the exact crisis in 2023 that has
unfolded in each of the years 2020, 2021, and 2022.

Specifically, over the last three years, a very clear pattern has played out, each time with no
reasonable action by federal agencies. River releases are maintained all winter based on rigid
demands by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), while inflows to Upper Klamath
Lake simultaneously underperform, preventing the lake from refilling prior to spring. Prudent
water management is not part of the equation.

Upper Klamath Lake is arguably the greatest natural reservoir in the Western United States, yet
its inherent function is being undermined at the very time when the environment and people need
it the most – a prolonged drought. Fundamentally, that’s the purpose and value of water storage.
As of November 21, 2022, the National Weather Service is forecasting approximately 400,000
acre-feet of inflow to Upper Klamath Lake through the end of March 2023. If releases occur at
the currently scheduled rates, Upper Klamath Lake will be at an elevation of just below 4,142.0
feet by April 1, over one foot below full pool.

Not filling Upper Klamath Lake prevents the United States from meeting its century-old
contractual obligations to deliver water to farms in the Klamath Project. KWUA estimates that
the regional economic impact of the last three years associated with reduced water deliveries to
the Klamath Project has been on the order of $500 million. In the meantime, food supplies are
growing increasingly scarce, and more expensive, in the United States and globally.

With respect to threatened and endangered fish, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(USFWS), low lake levels in the spring inhibit a cohort of one type of sucker from spawning at
certain shoreline sites. Conversely, according to NMFS, there must be enough water stored in
Upper Klamath Lake to produce a “flushing flow” in the Klamath River each spring, to dislodge
worms that carry a parasite, called Ceratanova shasta, which causes mortality in juvenile
salmon. These “boundary conditions” required by NMFS and USFWS have regularly not been
achieved over the last three years. The dominant reason is the failure to fill Upper Klamath Lake
due to NMFS’s inflexible demands and regulatory leverage.

Overall, the last three years have been defined by continuous conflict, controversy, and hardship
for the Klamath Basin for fish, wildlife, and humans alike.

What’s KWUA’s Plan?

Since the irrigation season ended (prematurely, it should be noted), KWUA has been calling for
Reclamation to be prepared, in the event conditions remained dry, to reduce river flows in order
to fill the lake. We have written letters to the agencies making this point, issued press releases,
put it in our publications, raised it with our federal and state representatives, spoken about it
publicly, and even gone so far as to put this message on a billboard.

But KWUA and its member districts are not the action entity – we cannot ourselves do what
needs to be done. We do not operate Link River Dam and cannot change the rate of releases
being made through the gates on the dam. PacifiCorp operates those gates, at Reclamation’s
direction. Reclamation is the sole entity that can decide to change the current rate of releases.
(See the following page for KWUA’s analysis of Reclamation’s current position on this matter.)

Although it is not the action agency, KWUA can identify specific operations that would
accomplish what needs to occur, in terms of filling Upper Klamath Lake, with conditions
remaining dry. The logic and necessary steps are as follows:

• As noted previously, the current trajectory is for the water surface elevation on Upper
Klamath Lake to be slightly below 4,142 feet on April 1. That deficit below full pool
equates to approximately 92,000 acre-feet of water. Therefore, to fill Upper Klamath
Lake to an elevation of 4,143.0 feet by April 1, otherwise-anticipated river releases must
collectively be reduced by 92,000 acre-feet by the end of March 31.

• This reduction could occur equally over the entire period or a shorter period, without
changing the end result. The shorter the duration, the larger the necessary reductions
river flow rate, and vice versa. Had action been taken before now, the magnitude of the
necessary reductions could have been less.

• A uniform reduction over the entire period would require reducing releases from Upper
Klamath Lake by 700 acre-feet per day, starting tomorrow, which equates to a continues
flow of approximately 350 cubic feet per second (cfs). In other words, as of today,
releases at Link River Dam need to be reduced by 350 cfs immediately and remain
reduced through the end of March for the lake to fill to 4,143.0 feet by April 1.

• No reduction or elimination of the minor diversions currently occurring will avoid the
need to reduce river flows in order to fill Upper Klamath Lake.1 To the extent diversions
are reduced, Reclamation should begin with its diversions at Howard Prairie and Hyatt
lakes, as well as the non-federal diversions that occur through the dam that Reclamation
constructed at Fourmile Lake.
1 For context, the volume anticipated to be released from Upper Klamath Lake for meeting river flows is in excess of
ten times the volume of every federal and non-federal diversion anticipated to occur over the course of the winter.

• If the current declining trend in the inflow forecast continues, greater river reductions will
be necessary to make up the corresponding deficit in inflows. Each day of inaction
makes the problem more difficult.

What are the implications of such reductions? Reducing releases from Link River Dam by 350
cfs would cause flows downstream of Link River Dam to be reduced from approximately 700 to
350 cfs, potentially as low as 250 cfs. Flows downstream of Iron Gate Dam would be reduced
from 950 cfs to approximately 550 cfs, and possibly to lower than 500 cfs.

Flows of as low as 250 cfs downstream of Link River Dam are well in excess of the minimum
flows observed in that waterbody during the winter months since the 1960s. Flows have
frequently been observed less than 100 cfs, though not routinely in the last two decades.

Flows of 550 cfs downstream of Iron Gate Dam would be the lowest flows observed in
December and January since the 1960s, but above the flows observed in February and March as
recently as 1992. Based on upstream gage records at Keno, flows at Iron Gate Dam below 500
cfs occurred fairly regularly prior to the 1960s, particularly during the drought of the late 1920s
and first half of the 1930s.

Admittedly these would be significant reductions to river flows; however, this would also
dewater, desiccate, and kill annelid worms that exist downstream of Iron Gate Dam, which are
the source for the C. shasta parasite whose numbers have exploded since Reclamation adopted
so-called “Hardy flows” in the mid-2000s.2

More to the point, for the fish and the farmers alike, the last three years have more than
conclusively demonstrated that the alternative of not filling the lake is far worse than short-term
(and likely beneficial) reductions in river flows. The fact is, there is no possible worse outcome
for the Klamath Basin than repeating what has transpired over the last three years.
2 See infra n. 5.

What Are Federal Agencies Currently (Not) Doing?

When it comes operating the Klamath Project, federal agencies have no plan.

The formulas that govern Project operations so complicated that they cannot practically be
reduced to plainspoken terms. 3 However, in actual practice, the last three years have demonstrated that whenever inflows into
Upper Klamath Lake are less than around 80 percent of
average, the math simply does not work out – natural hydrology cannot physically replicate the
formulaic output of Reclamation’s model. Excessive winter river releases prevent the lake from
adequately filling prior to the following spring, yet this scenario is neither anticipated nor
accounted for, in terms of adjusting subsequent operations. Instead, the formulas continue to call
for water to be released from Upper Klamath Lake that does not physically exist.

As it so happens, those winter river releases seek to maintain, as a minimum, 80 percent of the
maximum potential habitat for the non-listed Chinook salmon in the Klamath River downstream
of Iron Gate Dam at all times regardless of any physical presence of the fish across their
lifecycle. 4 In other words, Reclamation, at the insistence of NMFS, has set a floor of 80 percent
of habitat for non-threatened species, even when nature provide less inflow to Upper Klamath
Lake than the demanded outflows.

In 2020, 2021, and 2022, inflows to Upper Klamath Lake were indeed less than 80 percent of
average – 73, 61, and 68 percent, respectively – and each year the lake came nowhere close to

 Upper Klamath Lake stores over half a million acre-feet in a six-foot range of water surface
elevations (between 4,137.0 and 4,143.0 feet). At the lake’s highest elevation in the spring of
2020, it was a foot short of filling. In 2021 and 2022, it was two feet short. That represents
between 90,000 and 180,000 acre-feet of unused storage capacity each year.

At the outset of the 2022-2023 winter, with four months before the irrigation season, the
National Weather Service is predicting a 50 percent chance that inflows to Upper Klamath Lake
will again be below 80 percent of average. 6 Presumably, stakeholders in the Basin hope that
actual inflows will be greater than currently forecast – but simply hoping for hydrology to
improve is not a plan, it is a wish. And for farmers and fish with their livelihood and lives on the
line, that’s not enough. Viewed in its totality, the situation could not be any clearer and the
required action could not be any more straightforward.
3 See e.g., U.S. Bur. of Reclamation, Appendix 4, Klamath Project Operations Biological Assessment (available at

4 The source of information for the flows required to satisfy this 80 percent mark are the 2006 Hardy Phase II flow
study, which was the source of the error that led Reclamation to adopt the current “Interim Operations Plan” in
2019, in order to stay litigation brought by the Yurok Tribe and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s

5 Inflows were 781,000 acre-feet for 2020; 653,000 acre-feet for 2021; and 728,000 acre-feet in 2022. 6 According to the CNRFC’s forecasts, Upper Klamath Lake is likely to see approximately 80 percent of average
inflows over the next year (842,000 acre-feet compared to a recent average, according to Reclamation’s figures, of
1,070,000 acre-feet per year).


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

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