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BOR study to tackle climate change threats. Crop modification and river restoration among options

Herald and News by Lacey Jarrell, 2/24/15

Representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation’s (BOR) Sacramento and Denver offices met Monday with local water managers to discuss options for navigating an “uncertain climate future.”

BOR Project Manager Shelley McGinnis said the discussion was intended to give the agency’s “Klamath River Basin Study” some direction. She said the study will assess climate change-related threats and how they might affect water supply and water demand. The meeting’s goal was to discuss strategies that could be implemented in the future to address those gaps.

The study is a collaboration with the Oregon Water Resources Department and the California Department of Water Resources, according to McGinnis.

Rising temperatures

Marketa Elsner, a civil engineer for the BOR, said scientists used Basin hydrologic data and the best available science to evaluate historic water supplies and to project future water supplies in climate models.

She noted that historically precipitation has varied from year to year, and that is not going to change in the future.

“Things are highly variable, and will continue to be that way,” Elsner said.

On the other hand, average temperatures are expected to climb through the rest of the century.

“Higher temperatures in all seasons,” Elsner said.

She said the models indicate a trend of drier summers and wetter winters. The temperature increases could also lead to a greater number of growing days, she added.

Brian Person, acting area manager for the BOR Klamath Basin Area Office, noted that as of Monday, Basin snowpack was only at 9 percent of average. He said this year might be an exception, but it might also be a snapshot of changing winter weather patterns.

“We’re a few warm storm events away from storage challenges on Upper Klamath Lake,” Person said.

McGinnis said a study water demand assessment showed that by the 2030s, consumptive water demands are expected to rise. Agricultural irrigation is expected to increase 10 percent; wetland use, 9 percent; municipal and industrial, 13 percent; and rural domestic will increase 13 percent as well.

Important fish needs

Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said any study will be incomplete unless it includes water needs for fish and wildlife.

“It’s a glaring omission to not include an environmental component,” Addington said. “It’s a huge demand on the system.”

McGinnis said the study is an opportunity to re-evaluate past ideas that may have been dismissed because of cost or resource availability.

Strategy examples include modifying crop use and acreage, increasing water storage, increasing streamflow, river restoration and implementing the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

Implementing strategies could improve delivery efficiency, reduce demand, reduce losses, and support water acquisition and transfers, and restoration projects, McGinnis said.

Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Agency, said the first topic that should be investigated is whether there is any extra water to store.

“There are a lot of good places water could be stored, but the question is ‘Under what kind of scenario would you have water to store?’ ” Cannon said. “The other question is ‘If there is water available, how would you use it?’ ”

Water rights paramount

Addington pointed out that since adjudication was implemented in 2013, the Klamath Tribes have first right to much of the upper Basin’s water. He pointed out that the Tribes should be part of any long-term water storage discussion.

Marketa said the study and potential water projects could pick up where the On-Project Plan left off.

Cannon said the OPP did not consider any project that would take longer than 10 years to complete.

Klamath Irrigation District (KID) Manager Mark Stuntebeck said infrastructure improvements to the Project’s canal network could reduce demand for irrigation water for operations, specifically operational spill.

“In some areas, some of our operational spill is highly usable, some of it is not,” Stuntebeck said.

Kyle Gorman, south-central region manager for OWRD, said years ago the state looked at potential for water storage sites in the Klamath Basin. He noted that much has changed in the Basin in the last five years.

“Maybe some areas were ruled out, but the reasons for making the decisions are out of date,” Gorman said. “There’s definitely some room to explore that aspect.”

Mike Newman, hydrologist for the BOR, said in addition to consumptive use, atypical weather could also pose challenges for completing environmental objectives. He said storage projects and plans for water availability might need to be developed to meet those needs as well.

“That might actually be a mechanism to make things that weren’t previously feasible, feasible,” Newman said.




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