Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Clear Lake water users may go dry
March 28, 2005
By DYLAN DARLING
Irrigators in the Bonanza area are working with federal water managers to find ways to avoid what appears to be a disastrous summer ahead.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials met Friday with Langell Valley and Horsefly irrigation district officials to discuss low water levels in Clear Lake.
Officials have said the low water could mean no water for irrigation from the lake this year. Now discussion is on hold until next month when the Bureau comes out with its operations plan, which will set forth who will get how much water for the growing season.
"We are still looking at some additional studies to see what can be done out there," said Cecil Lesley, chief of land and operations for the Klamath Project.
As is, things look bad at the lake.
Because Clear Lake contains endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers, is subject to water level requirements under the Endangered Species Act.
By the end of September, the lake level needs to be at least 4,520.60 feet above sea level. Last week it was at 4,522.63, allowing 2 feet of wiggle room from now until September.
Projections show that evaporation and seepage will leave the lake below the September minimum, even if no water is released for irrigation, Lesley said.
John Nichols, Langell Valley irrigation district manager, said officials are trying to figure a way to get water to farmers who rely on the lake for irrigation. The district has more than 100 customers with 16,300 acres. Of those, about 6,750 acres rely solely on Clear Lake for water.
This year's situation for irrigators below Clear Lake represents a reversal from 2001, when most of the Klamath Reclamation Project was shut down while farmers and ranchers near Bonanza received a full supply.
The Langell Valley and Horsefly districts receive nearly all their water from Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir. Four years ago, those reservoirs held ample supplies of water.
Reclamation officials tapped Clear Lake in 2001 to send water down the Lost River to Tule Lake, where endangered suckers are also found.
"Back in 2001, they took 40,000 acre-feet for Tule Lake," Nichols said. "Because they did that, it is causing us a major shortage now. They know now that that was kind of a mistake."
A string of dry years since 2001 has given the lake little chance to recover.
"Clear Lake doesn't refill with the same velocity and flows as Upper Klamath Lake. It's just in a different watershed," Nichols said.
Adding to the situation is the design of Clear Lake reservoir. The Bureau built a dam on the shallow natural lake in 1910 in order to hold water from flowing down the Lost River. That, in turn, allowed Tule Lake to shrink, providing for reclamation of the lake bed for farming.
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