Watermaster, rights determine haves, have nots
By ANNA WILLARD
For the Capital Press
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. -- In the complicated world of Klamath Basin water, Scott White is the man in the middle.
He is watermaster for District 17, which covers most of Klamath County and a small portion Lake County.
His job is regulating the use of surface water in the district.
Following the completion of the Oregon Water Resources Department's adjudication in early March, White and his staff have been monitoring river flows and delivering notices to stop irrigating. The adjudication laid out who owns the surface water rights in the area, and where they are in the pecking order --seniority -- when there isn't enough water for everyone.
This year, water is tight, and the Klamath Tribes and Klamath Project irrigators have called for water. Their water rights have been deemed more senior than about 200 upper basin irrigators, who are being shut off.
White said a dry winter resulting in insufficient flows to Upper Klamath Lake tributaries is a major factor in the decisions to shut off water in the Upper Klamath Basin.
"The flows are so low this year there aren't enough paper water rights to cover it, so it goes to the most senior users and the junior water rights are shut off," White said Monday before the rally in Klamath Falls. "We haven't received any pushback, but nobody is happy."
White said that when informing irrigators that their water needs to be turned off, his staff works hard to be tactful and respectful. The first step is to track down the owner, which is not always easy, he said. In some cases there are absentee landowners, the land is being leased or sometimes people are just hard to find, White said.
He said there has been only one instance where his staff physically shut off water, but that was a public diversion and irrigators downstream were contacted beforehand.
Now, his staff is reassessing flows. He said if there is water that can be turned back on they will do so, but White is doubtful.
"If we have 100 (cubic feet per second) extra, people may be able to turn on their water, but in a drought year maybe not," White said.
He added that they have completed work on the Sycan, Sprague and Williamson rivers.
Now the Wood River, Sand and Scott creeks have been called on, but his office will evaluate what has already been done before moving on to other drainages.
Wood River is near Fort Klamath and Sand and Scott creeks run in northern Klamath County near the Klamath Marsh.