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BOR works with local irrigators; Phillips remains in charge of the local project; interim managers share duties
 by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 2/8/14
     The former Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Basin Area Office (KBAO) manager, Jason Phillips, said he is still working closely with Basin water   stakeholders while his position is being filled.

   Phillips, who left the KBAO office in December to become the deputy regional director for the BOR Mid-Pacific Region, said the KBAO still falls under his supervision and he’ll   continue to participate in Basin decision-making until another area manager is hired and trained.

   “I will be heavily involved in Klamath Project for the next year, at least,” he said.   On Tuesday, Phillips met in a closed meeting with a group of at least 60 water stakeholders to discuss the next   steps to prepare for the drought.

   “Right now the projections are if the weather (precipitation) doesn’t turn to be above average for the rest of the year, it will likely be the driest year in recorded history,” he said.

   Part of the BOR’s strategy is to maintain transparent relationships with stakeholders about how to best manage water, said Phillips.
New biological opinion has helped conserve water in Upper Klamath Lake  

   Although BOR decisions are ultimately dictated by federal law and state water law, the office has some discretion about how water is managed. But if the weather doesn’t get significantly wetter, the Klamath Project will have less water for irrigators than it has ever had, he said.

   “That’s going to pose a lot of difficult situations with trying to best prioritize where to deliver that water,” he said.

   Phillips praised efforts that have already been made to stabilize resources in advance of the potential drought. The new biological opinion — a joint effort between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service — has helped conserve water   in Upper Klamath Lake that, under old biological opinions, would have been long gone. According to Phillips, the new opinion has allowed 86,000 acre-feet of water to be conserved since October.

   “That represents more than a foot of lake elevation that’s now available for needs in the spring,” he said.

   Area Manager Position

   According to Phillips, the application process for the KBAO manager position will close in the next few weeks. He will work closely with David Murillo, the BOR director of the Mid-Pacific Region, to hire a new manager. Phillips said he expects to have the position filled by early summer.

   “I’m going to take my time to get the right person in here,” he said.

   Terri Gilmore, KBAO deputy area manager, filled the acting area manager position for 45 days after Phillips left the KBAO.  

   Don Bader, deputy area manager at Shasta Dam, is the current KBAO acting area manager. He will be in the position until March 1.

   “It gives me a firsthand opportunity to look at the office and to maybe apply for the position,” Bader said.

   According to Phillips, the BOR has not chosen just one individual as acting area manager because it’s useful to let other agency managers experience the position’s roles and responsibilities.

   No candidate has been selected to become acting area manager after Bader’s term is up, Phillips said.

   Decision-making on critical dates, such as the April 1, water determination, will likely be guided by the regional director and Phillips.

   The KBOA manager position has garnered a lot of interest, said Phillips. Candidates are not required to be from a specific region, but he or she should be familiar with water issues, endangered species and Tribal relationships. Understanding the nuances of reclamation project operation and maintenance responsibilities and how those relate to delivering water also is important.

   “I would like to have someone who is interested in staying in the community for a while,” Phillips said.

   While potentially facing the worst water year on record, the BOR is placing emphasis on collaboration, and he hopes to see the community continue working together. Phillips is expecting some turbulence through the 2014 water allocation process because it will require tough decisions that haven’t been made before.

   “Everybody realizes that if there’s just very little water in the system, it’s hard to make a good water year out of it,” he said.

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN


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