water allocation short of demand for farmers, ranchers
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — As expected, irrigators in the Klamath
Project are getting less water than they will likely need this
summer thanks to a combination of dry weather and more water
being kept in-stream to protect threatened coho salmon.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will provide approximately
140,000 acre-feet of water to farms and ranches from Upper
Klamath Lake in 2020, the agency announced Wednesday.
That is only one-third of historical demand for the Klamath
Project, which delivers irrigation water to 230,000 acres of
farmland in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
"We are having a very challenging water year," said Jeff
Nettleton, the bureau's Klamath Basin Area Office manager.
"We've had a dry fall, winter and spring, resulting in a low
snowpack and significantly lower-than-average reservoir inflows.
These conditions make it even more challenging than normal to
meet all the water needs in the basin."
The Klamath Basin is averaging just 57% of normal snowpack and
66% of normal precipitation for the water year dating back to
Oct. 1, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation
Service. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed a drought declaration for
Klamath County in March.
As of April 1, the surface elevation of Upper Klamath Lake —
which feeds into the Klamath River — was 4,142 feet, equivalent
to 448,495 acre-feet of stored water. The latest NRCS forecast
predicts inflows into Upper Klamath Lake between April and
September will be 290,000 acre-feet, or 60% of normal.
To make supplies even tighter, the bureau has agreed to send
more water down the Klamath River to protect coho from a disease
as part of a new three-year interim operating plan.
The plan, finalized Wednesday, comes on the heels of a lawsuit
filed by the Yurok Tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of
Fishermen's Associations and the Institute for Fisheries
Resources against the bureau, seeking an additional 50,000
acre-feet of water for salmon.
Instead, the bureau promised to provide an additional 23,000
acre-feet for Klamath River coho during low water years through
2023, and the plaintiffs agreed to suspend, though not withdraw,
The bureau began releasing 1,325 cubic feet per second of water
below Iron Gate Dam in California on Wednesday, which will
gradually ramp up to 6,000 cfs through May 1. The idea is to
flush away a deadly fish-killing parasite known as C. shasta
that thrives in slow-moving warm water.
The agreement with tribes and commercial fishing groups also
buys more time for the bureau to complete a longer-term
operating plan. Federal law requires consultation with the
National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to protect several species of threatened and endangered
fish, including Klamath River coho and suckers in Upper Klamath
A five-year plan was released in 2019, but scrapped after the
bureau determined it had received erroneous information from an
David Felstul, water operations chief for the bureau's Klamath
Basin Area office, said it all amounts to a delicate balancing
act for resources.
"Every acre-foot of water is valuable and is in limited supply,"
The Klamath Water Users Association, which represents farms and
ranches in the Klamath Project, calculated the 140,000 acre-foot
water allotment several weeks in advance. The Klamath Project
Drought Response Agency is working with growers to enroll in
financial programs that could blunt the impact of water
shortages, such as idling land.
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