Klamath irrigators to get reduced water deliveries

A cowboy drives cattle near Fort Klamath, Ore., in the Upper Klamath Basin. State wildlife managers say the Rogue wolfpack killed a steer earlier this week.

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Klamath Project irrigators are facing another tight water year.

At the annual Klamath Water Users Association water meeting Tuesday, Brian Person, acting manager for the Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Basin Area Office, announced that the Klamath Project is slated to receive 254,500 acre-feet of water for the 2015 irrigation season.

“It’s disappointing, but not unexpected,” said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association.

According to the BOR 2015 Operations Plan, historical full Project demand is 390,000 acre-feet.

“I think we could see it coming. You know it’s a number that if we weren’t stringing droughts back-to-back, it’s manageable,” Addington said. “I’m afraid people are going to get hurt this year.”

According to Person, irrigators who receive water from Clear Lake Reservoir are not slated to receive any water, and irrigators who receive water from Gerber Reservoir are estimated to receive 15,962 acre-feet.

Frank Hammerich, manager of the Langell Valley Irrigation District, said he believes the BOR’s projection of roughly 16,000 acre-feet is too high. Hammerich believes his district will only receive about 10,000 acre-feet, he said.

Person said as of now, the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge is not slated to receive any water, but that could change. He said water managers and scientists will revisit water availability in May and June.

“We’re still looking at options to try to get a water supply to the refuges. There are some other options we’re looking at that we don’t have fully evolved at this time,” Person said.

Person pointed out the Basin has received 95 percent of average precipitation, but snowpack is less than one-third of normal.

“This is the greatest disparity that has ever been seen,” Person said. “The Project lives by snowpack, so this is a big deal for us. There are just a few years that are more challenging than this one.”

According to Addington, total project supply in 2014 was 258,000 acre-feet. He said it provided 60 percent of Project demand, and it was the third worst year on record.

“When you look at the hydrology of 2014, it was about as bad as it gets in recent memory,” Addington said.

Jason Phillips, deputy regional director for the BOR Mid-Pacific Region and former KBAO area manager, pointed out the West is in its fourth year of drought.

“Reclamation’s highest priority this year, and last year, is whatever we can do to conserve water for meeting our contractual demands,” Phillips said.

Project farmer Tracey Liskey said the limited Project allocation is a little higher than he anticipated.

“There’s no snowpack and I don’t know if it will hold. I hope they’re right,” Liskey said.

The available water supply is based on Upper Klamath Lake inflows reported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and on a new 10-year joint biological opinion drafted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The opinion outlines water allocations required to support threatened coho salmon and endangered Lost River and shortnose sucker in the Klamath Basin.

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