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Bureau: Aquifer use necessary

By Ty Beaver, H&N July 21, 2006

It's not because they wanted to do it.

Bureau of Reclamation officials say it was not a simple or an easy decision to use groundwater irrigation this year despite abundant rainfall and concerns of strain on the region's aquifer.

The Klamath County Board of Commissioners expressed concern earlier this week to Barry Norris of the Oregon Water Resources Department about using groundwater pumps when precipitation for the region is more than three inches above normal.

Norris told the commissioners that despite abundant rain, the Bureau of Reclamation still had a commitment to federally regulated flows for endangered coho salmon and other fish species.

Bureau officials echoed that necessity, but said other factors also contributed to the water situation in the Klamath Basin this year.

“It would be a nice thing to not have to pump this year,” said Cecil Lesley, chief of water and lands for the Bureau.

Inflows into Upper Klamath Lake and precipitation were abundant earlier in the year. Spring inflows were at 200 percent and 130 percent in June. But those numbers have dropped sharply to 17 percent in July, Bureau officials said.

The problem arises because in the seven years prior to this year the region was in a drought. During that time, the aquifer compensated for the loss and was stressed. It is groundwater that supports the inflows, Lesley said.

Aquifer status

It generally takes at least three years to recharge an aquifer, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Chris Karas, deputy area manager, said the Bureau has monitored the situation for years and is just as concerned at having accurate information about the aquifer's status.

“It's important to not estimate and speculate. We want to have facts,” she said.

The Bureau is monitoring those using groundwater carefully with help from the state. The crop and soil of each irrigator was calculated to determine how much water they could use in a given period and that is checked along with meters periodically.

Lesley said the Bureau had not expected to use groundwater during the irrigation season, but when precipitation and lake inflows dropped, it became a necessity.

To guarantee inflows for the river, the Bureau has leave to use every resource at its disposal to meet flow regulations, and that includes using the aquifer to preserve surface water for the river, Karas said.

“We didn't intend to go this way until the inflows dropped,” she said.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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