Klamath Project shut down - Shrinking water supplies leave irrigators in lurch

June 25, 2003

(Note from BH: This article appeared on the front page of June 25, 2003, Klamath Falls Herald and News. The paper decided not to post this story to their online website, instead posted a later story that was written late this afternoon after the water shut off order was rescinded by BOR. I decided to type this article out because it tells why the shut off decision was made in the first place.)

By Dylan Darling


Herald and News

Klamath Falls, Oregon


To submit a Letter to the Editor: heraldandnews@heraldandnews.com

Federal water managers today ordered a temporary shutdown of the Klamath Project in order to conserve enough water in the Upper Klamath Lake to protect endangered suckers.

Klamath Reclamation Project Manager Dave Sabo said this morning that irrigation diversion through the A Canal will be suspended until it is clear the Bureau can meet a lake level requirement on June 30.

"We will be shutting down the project until we get to the lake levels we need," Sabo said. "I'm expecting we would start [deliveries] before or on the first of July."

Additional shutdowns may be necessary through the rest of the summer, he added.

It was not immediately known whether there would be any affect on irrigators on the Klamath Project's east side, which does not rely on Upper Klamath Lake.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation official met with Klamath Basin water managers via conference call Tuesday and today to discuss water conditions.

Under the Endangered Species Act, water levels in Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River are stipulated in biological opinions issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Friday, the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation told Basin water managers that they needed to cut the demand on irrigation water by almost a quarter to keep the lake above the elevation required by the Service's biological opinion, which is designed to protect endangered suckers in the lake.

On Monday, Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said irrigation water deliveries could be cut severely.

Keppen said irrigators have already taken several measures to save water.

Keppen said threats to water deliveries can't be blamed on recent hot weather

"Since Friday we have done everything we can to cut the demand," he said.

Cecil Lesley, branch chief for land and water operations in the Bureau's Klamath Basin Area Office, said, however, that inflows into Upper Klamath Lake have been dropping rapidly.

"It's been for about a week now that flows have fallen off considerably swifter than we thought they would," he said.

The drop came despite a cool weekend and has Bureau officials looking into Upper Basin water usage to find out why the inflows have been going down.

The root of the situation is the June 13 shift of water year types by the Bureau.

Because of a wet April that boosted stream flow forecasts, the Bureau changed the water year type from "dry" to "below average." The switch means the lake needs to be kept 6 inches higher than before and flows from Iron Gate Dam to be kept at several hundred cubic feet per second higher.

John Nichols, manager of the Langell Valley Irrigation District, said his district has tried to keep the Bureau and other irrigation districts meet the upped requirements by letting its return flow go downstream. He said the district has volunteered to help through the end of the month, but there is not that much water to go around.

If the lake level goes below what is required by the biological opinion then there could be lawsuits from environmental groups that keep a keen eye on the Basin.

"I don't think sucker fish would care one way or the other, but there are a whole bunch of people watching the magic number," Nichols said.

If the year was still classified as dry then the lake would need to be at 4,141.5 feet above sea level, instead of the 4,142.1 feet above sea level called for in a below average year.

Keppen said the current threat to irrigation deliveries can't be blamed on hot weather.

"If there is any reduction, it will not be caused by Mother Nature, it will be caused by regulations," he said.

If the Bureau can hit the lake level mark on June 30, then it will be a bit of a break because it won't need to hit another level until July 31. That level will need to be 4,140.7 feet above sea level.

If the weather gets hot again, causing more evaporation and more demand from irrigators, then more changes to irrigation deliveries would be needed.

"I can guarantee you that we are going to be in this spot again in July," Keppen said.