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Water storage options

The Long Lake basin holds promise for area

November 8, 2008, Herald and News by Jill Aho
In the 1800s, when U.S. Geological Survey crews came to the Klamath Basin to map the terrain, surveyors found water in a shallow, closed basin west of Upper Klamath Lake.

They called the body of water Long Lake. By the time they returned, no water remained there.

“It was the end of the little ice age,” said Bureau of Reclamation planning division chief Jon Hicks. “There was more snow and moisture and water then.”

But the fact that Long Lake once held water means that more than a century later when Bureau of Reclamation officials began exploring ways to store water in the Klamath Basin, it remained a viable option. Today, it is the front runner.

The Bureau would like to create a water savings account that would take water from winter runoff in years of high precipitation and store it for years of drought.

Top picks

When the Bureau first began studying water storage options in the Basin, it looked at 96 possibilities, which were then narrowed to 24, then narrowed to six. Of these six, Long Lake is the most appealing, officials say.

But Stan Mattingly, a water conservation specialist, said Bureau officials are continuing to explore other options.

“You don’t want to overlook other possibilities,” he said.

The runner-up to Long Lake is Whiteline Reservoir, to the east of Upper Klamath Lake.

It would take the front position if Long Lake proves to be cost prohibitive or has other issues. Questions remain about the cost of pumping water to the lake, which does not have a stream nearby, and whether the lake’s basin leaks.

“You’ve got to keep all (options) open without wasting time,” Hicks said. “If you find some show stoppers at Long Lake, then you might move back to Whiteline.”

Klamath Water Users Association Executive Director Greg Addington said a water storage project has long been a priority for the group.

“Long Lake has emerged as the most logical location,” Addington said. “You wouldn’t have to build a huge new dam, and it’s off-stream.”

Steep sides

Long Lake is appealing because it is in a naturally closed basin with steep sides and a narrow, small surface area, which means less evaporation. It has the projected ability to store 300,000 to 500,000 acre-feet of water.

Through studies, the Bureau found that storing groundwater isn’t a viable option.

“All the groundwater moves in the same direction,” Hicks said. “It doesn’t stay where you put it. You can’t get it back later.”

Other considerations, such as Round Lake or Agency Lake, while feasible, are less appealing because they are shallow and have such large surface areas that evaporation becomes a factor. They also would have high pumping costs because they are farther away from Upper Klamath Lake.

Bureau researchers also wonder if there will be excess water to store.

The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and water right adjudication have the potential to determine what is “excess” and who has a claim to that excess.

“This is premised on having water,” Hicks said. “We’re trying to determine a firm, fixed water supply.”

Addington said during KBRA negotiations, the subject of water storage was broached.

“We asked those other parties to support additional off-stream storage, which is a big step,” Addington said.

Purpose of storage

Hicks said the exact purpose for storing water is yet to be determined.

“This may be a valuable asset whether there’s an agreement, or there isn’t an agreement,” he said, adding that stored water could be used for multiple purposes, not just feeding irrigation supply lines for farming within the Klamath Project boundaries.

“Since we don’t have a firm answer to the purpose,” Mattingly added, “then (we don’t have an) answer for how is it paid for.”

Bureau officials say they are hesitant to speculate on the cost of any potential storage project because too many variables remain in play. In the last few years, the Bureau has spent about $4 million on research, Hicks said.

The Bureau also isn’t at a point where considerations such as fish screens and environmental impact statements come into the forefront.

Addington said KWUA remains a supporter of the Bureau’s research and maintains that continued funding is a high priority.

“The frustrating part is you look around the state of Oregon and name the last water storage that was built,” Addington said. “It’s a problem West-wide.”

Many questions remain, and several years of study are ahead, Hicks said, but Long Lake, as an off-stream storage option, could be one of the first of its kind.

“We may be in the forefront of off-stream storage,” he said. “It’s pretty vital to keeping the project operating.”
Questions to be answered

The following are questions the Bureau of Reclamation is trying to answer about Long Lake:

Does it leak? If so, how much, and where does the water go? What can be done about it?

How should power be delivered to pumps? What are the power needs and costs?

Is there potential to generate power when returning water to Upper Klamath Lake? What is the cost to revenue ratio?

Should water be pumped at 1,000 cubic feet per second or 2,000 cfs? What size fish screen will be required?

At what point should water enter Long Lake to maximize water quality and control water temperature?

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