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Irrigators warily eye low lake levels

Refuge manager worried about spring migration

by SARA HOTTMAN, Herald and News 1/5/12

Lack of snow accumulation means little snowpack in the mountains, which feeds water bodies in the Basin during the summer, providing water for irrigation and wildlife refuges.


“Upper Klamath Lake is not doing well at this point,” said John Lea, Oregon snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resource Conservation Service. “Snowpack is only 31 percent of average as of this morning. Last year at this time it was 144 percent of average.”


Currently Upper Klamath Lake is at 4,140.25 feet. In order for irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project and the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges to receive full water deliveries this spring, the lake has to gain about 2 feet.


“Like the rest of us down the river, we’re pretty concerned that we’ve had a really dry winter so far,” said Ron Cole, K la math Basin Wildlife Refuges manager. “Snowpack relates to water supply for refuges and over 400 species we provide for.


“Right now we’re bracing for spring migration. … Without the ability to flood some grain fields and marshes, food’s not available to (bald eagles and migratory waterfowl).”


Endangered fish in the lake and Klamath River require certain lake levels and river flows. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Project water, meets those needs before it delivers to irrigators or the refuge.


“We’re very concerned,” said Greg Adding ton, director of the Klamath Water Users Association, which represents irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project. “We want to see the system being managed as conservatively as possible. … We need the lake to be full to have a chance at a decent season.


“We can still get a full lake, but the longer we go without precipitation the harder that’s going to be.”


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