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Water Forecast Improves; projections not enough to relieve Basin irrigators yet

Herald and News 3/5/14

A preliminary March water update released by the Bureau of Reclamation indicates reserves in Upper Klamath Lake have increased 10,000 acre-feet in the last month.

The March 1 water statistics, provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), revealed recent wet weather systems have bumped the March-to-September Upper Klamath Lake inflow to 275,000 acre-feet. In mid-February the forecast was 265,000 acre-feet.

Jason Cameron, a hydrologist for the BOR, explained the projections for inflow are used to estimate the acre-feet available to Klamath Reclamation Project farmers and ranchers. He said the uptick in volume has increased the water forecast from 158,000 acre-feet to 170,000 acre-feet.

The announcement was made at a Tuesday Klamath Water and Power Authority (KWAPA) board meeting. At the meeting, water projections and recommendations were given for the Water User Mitigation Plan (WUMP). More than 1,100 farmers and ranchers applied to idle land through the cooperative WUMP agreement between KWAPA and the Bureau of Reclamation. As part of the program, irrigators “bid” their application by providing a dollar amount per acre they would like to be paid in return for not diverting surface water to grow crops.

Nothing guaranteed

Cameron emphasized that the March 1 projection is not a guaranteed or a locked-in supply.

“We don’t lock in our supply until April 1. What happens between now and April 1 will make a big difference on the official project supply we announce in our operations plan,” he said.

Jerry Enman, an alfalfa farmer with 250 acres, expressed concern about an onslaught of groundwater pumping that may occur if irrigators can’t access surface water.

“I have some static levels in my area that are in a precarious position,” Enman said.

Ivan Gall, groundwater section manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department, recommended that WUMP participants pump less than 40,000 acre-feet of groundwater this year. His recommendation is based on U.S. Geologic Survey model simulation assessing the condition of the Basin groundwater aquifer and how much water can be sustainably pumped from it.

Recent history

Last year, irrigators pumped about 64,000 acre-feet of groundwater and caused water levels to drop as much three feet, some even beyond the 2010 levels, he said.

“Between 2010 January levels and 2014 January levels three wells — one’s down eight feet, one’s down 10 feet, one’s down 12 feet, so that’s how much head we’ve lost in the aquifer system at those three points that are scattered around the project,” he said. “There are a lot of other wells that are in a similar situation.

“I would expect if you pump 40,000 to 50,000 this year they are going to drop one, two, or three feet again.

“If we start exceeding those amounts, I would fully start to expect to start hearing from well owners complaining about decreased yields in wells and possibly dry wells,” he said.

ljarrell@heraldandnews.com; @LMJatHanN



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