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Basin water year looking dire
  Herald and News by LACEY JARRELL, April 2, 2015
     Basin snowpack is already at June levels.

   “This is probably going to be the second or third worst year we’ve experienced,” said Jill Nelson, who farms with her husband, Warren, in the Langell   Valley Irrigation District.

   “It’s our livelihood. We absolutely live and die by the water situation.”

   According to Sven Nelaimischkies, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Medford, snowpack at Crater Lake National Park is 31 inches. In a normal year, Nelaimischkies   said, the park has 121 inches on April 1 and 31 inches on June 11.

   “The general thing I hear from folks is that this year might end up being worse than the last,” said Klamath Irrigation District Manager Mark Stuntebeck.

   Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Agency, said he has no doubts the water allocation to the Klamath Project will be worse than last year, but irrigators won’t know for sure until next week when the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) releases its 2015 Klamath Project Operations Plan. The plan outlines water management objectives and estimates how much water Klamath Project and the “East Side” — Horsefly and Langell Valley irrigation districts — will receive. The BOR calculates these values based on Upper Klamath Lake inflows observed in March and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Upper Klamath Lake inflow forecast.

   In last year’s Operations Plan, the BOR estimated the 2014 Project water supply to be 239,000 acre-feet.  

   In an earlier interview with the Herald and News, Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, called 2014 the “third worst water year since 1999.”

   Last year at this time, snowpack was more than twice what it is now: Crater Lake had 82 inches of snow and Upper Klamath Lake was 80 percent full, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Michelle Cohen.

   “I think there’s a concern that as like last year, the forecast might be a little high,” Stuntebeck said. “It’s difficult to determine supply and it may not really be there. That’s a   big concern.”

   Low reservoirs

   Although Upper Klamath Lake is nearly full, Gerber and Clear Lake reservoirs, which supply irrigation water to the East Side, are both lower than 2104 levels.

   According to BOR  Hydromet Data, as of Wednesday Gerber Reservoir was 17 percent full, with a volume of 16,130 acre-feet. Last year on April 1, Gerber had 18,578 acre-feet of stored water, and the NRCS forecast that about 5,500 acrefeet of additional inflows would occur. Irrigators who receive water from Gerber were allocated 19,500 acre-feet.

   Clear Lake was 11 percent full on Wednesday, with a volume of 46,384 acre-feet. Last year on April 1, Clear Lake had a volume of 54,230 acre-feet, and no irrigation water was released. According to the Operations Plan, the average historic Project demand from Clear Lake Reservoir is approximately 34,000 acre-feet.  

   As of Wednesday, Upper Klamath Lake was 94 percent full, according to BOR Hydromet Data. Brian Person, acting manager of the BOR Klamath Basin Area Office, said 31,701 additional acre-feet is needed to entirely fill Upper Klamath Lake.

   “Although it is highly dependent on factors such as soil moisture and temperature, approximately 2.7 inches of precipitation would be needed over the water surface and areas that drain into Upper Klamath Lake,” Person said.


   Nelaimischkies said since the water year began Oct. 1, the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport has received 9.98 inches of precipitation, which is just slightly above average. Normal is 9.73 inches.

   On March 1, Crater Lake had 37 inches of snowpack. Nelaimischkies said it is not uncommon for snowpack to decrease in March.

   “In March, we get normal temperatures and temperatures that stay above freezing longer,” he explained.

   Nelaimischkies said early next week, a cold air mass could drop the snow level as low as 2,000 feet, but it’s not likely the lagging snow depth will be made up this late in the year. He said weather experts expect low-level systems to add about a foot of snow at Crater Lake in the coming days, but the water-equivalent will not add much to what’s there now.  

   Although the Basin has received above normal precipitation this winter, and much of the region will experience showers in the next week, the U.S. Drought Monitor categorizes the Basin as being in “extreme drought.”

   The three-month outlook for April, May and June forecasts above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation, according to Nelaimischkies.

   “It doesn’t look like there will be any relief in drought conditions,” he said, noting that drought conditions are expected to persist or intensify.

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN



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