Study finds water bank can't do it all
Sunday, May 15, 2005 12:37 AM PDT
Published May 15, 2005 A federal
review of the water bank that spent $7.6 million
this year to buy irrigation water from Klamath
Reclamation Project farmers to increase flows for
salmon finds it is seriously drawing down the local
water table and may not be able to help fish through
extended dry periods.
In a report released Friday, the U.S. Geological
Survey said a preliminary estimate found that
private wells pumping for the water bank have
increased demand on the local groundwater
eight-fold, causing water levels in other wells to
drop between two and 20 feet.
''If you were to continue pumping groundwater at
that rate, eventually you would run into trouble,''
said Dennis Lynch, director of the USGS Oregon Water
Science Center in Portland, which did the review.
''Our thinking is groundwater is part of the
solution. But there would have to be times when
water levels were allowed to naturally recharge
during wetter periods.
Christine Karas, deputy area manager for the Klamath Reclamation Project,
said they need to look at ways besides the water
bank to provide water for fish long-term.
''In the meantime the water bank is a great tool to help us,'' she said.
''As far as a long-term sustainable solution, it's
unlikely simply because of the high cost.''
After shutting off irrigation water to farmers in 2001 to assure water in
a drought for threatened and endangered fish, the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation started the water bank in
2003 to meet terms of the Endangered Species Act and
responsibilities to Indian tribes that depend on
. This year, the bureau is paying $7.6 million for
100,000 acre-feet of water devoted to endangered
suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, the primary reservoir
for the Klamath Reclamation Project, and threatened
coho salmon in the Klamath River, the outflow of the
lake and the project.
It is made up of 60,000 acre-feet from paying farmers to pump water from
wells into irrigation canals, and 40,000 acre-feet
from paying farmers not to irrigate their land.
Lynch said it would be best not to have a water bank every year, so that
groundwater depleted by the wells could recharge.
'It's kind of like having a bank account and only
making withdrawals,'' he said. ''At some point you
run out money.''
The review also suggested going outside the
irrigation project, as far as the Shasta and Scott
river valleys, for water to spread the impact of
pumping wells. The review said a better set of river
flow targets for wet, normal and dry years could be
crafted by basing them on river flows going back to
1960, rather than just the 1990s. The current system
suffers from large jumps in flows from wet to dry
years, which would be smoothed out by using a longer
Lynch said paying farmers not to irrigate can provide more water without
threatening groundwater, but does not offer water in
the spring, when young salmon need it to migrate to
the ocean. Water can't be spilled out of upper
Klamath Lake in the spring, because it is needed to
maintain sucker spawning habitat.
Building more reservoirs would be helpful, but only if they were big
enough to carry over water one year to another,
Lynch said. One problem is that reduces high winter
flows in the river, which some scientists believe
are needed to flush out parasites that kill salmon.
Farmers, environmentalists and salmon fishermen all found something
encouraging in the review.
Bob Gasser of the Klamath Water Users Association
liked the ideas of increasing reservoir storage and
spreading the demand for the water bank outside the
irrigation project. ''We understand we have to be
part of the fix, but we can't be all the fix,''
Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations
said the review underscored the idea that water in
the Klamath Basin has long been over-appropriated,
and that flow targets for the river need to be
improved. ''The only ultimate solution here is to
reduce demand, and retire water permits on a willing
seller basis to bring demand back in balance with
actual supply,'' said Spain.
Steve Pedery of the Oregon Natural Resources
Council said he hoped the bureau would follow up on
the review's suggestion to consider restoring Lower
Klamath Lake, which has been drained for farmland,
to increase water storage.
On the Net: USGS review of water bank: