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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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It's time to do something with Basin's surplus water

April 3, 2006

It has been more than four years since we experienced the disastrous shutoff of the water here in the Klamath Basin.

Much as happened through the hard work of many dedicated individuals. Discussion and an active dialogue have taken place on storage for long-term solutions, cooperative management with local groups representing tribal interests, fisheries, habitat improvement and others to seek common shared uses of a limited resource.

Recent headlines in the Herald and News have reported on possible removal of dams and alternatives to current system infrastructure. There are, however, several areas that have either been ignored or have not appeared to be of a high priority. Some groups consider these are only stopgap measures, but they do warrant consideration.

First, in wet years like this one, we are sending a phenomenal amount of water downstream to be dumped in the ocean.

Experts have reported that too much water flow can be detrimental to the natural habitat and fishery. Noting the amount of spillage from the Link River, the releases have been average over two to three times that of previous years.

Why couldn't this water be used to recharge the Basin's aquifers and prime the system for the next year's agricultural usage? The questions that need attention ask: are we truly managing our waters on a year-round basis? Shouldn't we be trying to temporarily hold the water? Why aren't we trying to store this surplus water in the canals and irrigation supply ditches?

It was noted by several growers that the Bureau likes to drain the system each year for maintenance. But driving around the A Canal and looking at some of the secondary distribution canals, there appears to be very little maintenance work ongoing. This, in part, may be due to our current wet water year.

Wouldn't it make sense to attempt to store water when you have a surplus? While there may be a question as to exactly how much can be stored in the “system,” having filled the supply canals will serve two distinct purposes:

n Eliminate the need to prime the system during the spring, thus saving waters for agricultural purposes, but also providing more habitat for wildlife.

n Serve as a point source to provide water for groundwater recharge.

To be fair, this year may not be typical as in drier years. However, steps could be taken during years where it has been forecasted that the next season may be drier than normal. We need to look at all aspects of the issue, including cost, benefits and other things, before implementation of a program that answers the question.

The second issue is: why isn't there an active groundwater recharging program in place? As I recall, it was further reported that numerous shallow wells used for domestic and farm purposes were lost during the drought. Without going into great detail, this is a critical issue that must also be addressed.

For example, if we are to attempt to recharge the groundwater, it needs a source. Some, if not all, comes from our actively placing water in canals and streams and flooding fields to provide a pathway to deliver water to the shallow and deeper aquifers.

Why hasn't this issue been addressed? Water managers need to think about how to react in both wet and dry year situations.

We all recognize there is not a simple or short answer to these questions, but it has to be a part of the solution. To tell people to just dig deeper wells or to blame it on the drought is not a satisfactory answer.

What is also disturbing is the potential answer that we have always followed certain methods. Or are water managers ducking the responsibility to address how to solve the problems and how to implement steps to alleviate the long-term dry season problems, such as lower-than-normal groundwater levels, possible flooding of reserved lands, development of winter water deliveries into the upper reaches of the Lost River System to provide a year-round source for recharging the groundwater?

It takes short-term measures and long-term fixes to ensure the continuation of the year-round stewardship of our natural resources.

Don Mausshardt, P. E., is a resident of Klamath Falls. He has more than 30 years experience in the environmental field.

Don Mausshardt

Guest columnist




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