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Rainfall swells Basin streamflow forecasts

Water pours over the John C. Boyle Dam on the Klamath River below Keno Monday afternoon. Recent rains have bolstered streamflow forecasts for the remainder of the summer in the Klamath Basin, but not enough to eliminate the possibility of tight water supplies for irrigators.

 May 17, 2005


Storm runoff rushing into Upper Klamath Lake has boosted streamflow forecasts for the summer, but it has yet to wash away concerns about tight irrigation supplies in the Klamath Basin.

"It's not going to be like this all irrigation season," said Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District.

Heavy rains during the first two weeks of May pushed Upper Klamath Lake inflow predictions from 48 percent for April to September at the start of the month to 65 percent inflow for May to September Monday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"A lot of that is due to the inflow we have seen this month," said Jolyne Lea, a forecaster with the Conservation Service, the federal agency tasked with predicting inflow throughout the country.

Creeks, streams and rivers around the Klamath Basin have swelled in the last three weeks as showers have become a near-daily occurrence. The last four days of April had at least a trace of rain recorded at the Klamath Falls Airport. And, of May's 16 days so far, only May 11 and 12 came through rain-free at the airport.

The rain has pushed precipitation numbers for the water year, which started Oct. 1, in the Basin to above average for this time of year. More rain is expected throughout the week in the Basin.

"It's better, but we were not in very good shape to begin with," Solem said. "I don't think we are out of the woods at all. Sixty percent inflow is still a long way from normal."

The rain has come as a mixed blessing.

While it has delayed demand for irrigation water and provided watered crops already in the ground it has also delayed much of the planting of onions and potatoes - two of the Basin's biggest cash crops - because of muddy fields.

Irrigation season in the Klamath Basin typically runs from April to mid-October. Solem said there's little demand on the district right now and there probably won't be for another week.

As of Monday there was a draw of 200 cubic feet per second of water at the A Canal Headgates, the start of the Klamath Reclamation Project.

"Typically, it will be at 600 or 700 cfs this time of year," Solem said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is still categorizing the year as "dry" for both the lake and the Klamath River.

"There hasn't been enough serious moisture yet to change any of the conditions," said Cecil Lesley, chief of land and operations for the Project.

The Bureau's concern for a dry year comes from the mountains, where the snowpack is less than half of normal for this time of year. Upper Klamath Lake has a large surface area but a shallow depth, making it reliant on water from snowmelt to keep filling it in late spring.

Late-spring rains don't make up for a weak snowpack accumulation during the winter, Lea said. But officials, farmers and others are still pleased by the precipitation.

"The next best thing to a deep snowpack is a spring rain," said George Taylor, Oregon state climatologist.

In a visit to Klamath Falls in February to speak at a Klamath County Cattleman's Association luncheon, Taylor predicted a wet spring to come because fall and winter had been dry. He said the only science he has behind his prediction is that its what has historically happened.

"Prayers got answered," he said.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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