Rains fill Upper Klamath Lake, Link River

March 26, 2003

By Dylan Darling

541-885-4471 or 800-275-0982


Herald and News

Klamath Falls, Oregon

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Federal water managers have ordered the release of water from Upper Klamath Lake, which reached full pool this week and is receiving fresh inflow from this week's series of storms.

Having a full lake doesn't mean there won't be shortages later in the summer, officials warned, but the rainfall will help delay the demand for irrigation water.

The Bureau of Reclamation directed PacifiCorp, which owns the Link River Dam, to ramp up the flow of water in Link River from 275 cubic feet per second last week to about 700 cfs this week.

With the arrival of rainfall Tuesday, the Bureau asked PacifiCorp to open the dam up even wider, increasing the flow to 2,200 cfs today, the highest flow since April 2000.

The lake on Tuesday was within about 2 inches of reaching its maximum elevation of 4,143.3 feet above sea level.

"The bottom line is we are getting more inflow now, and that's going to lead to more outflow," said, Jim Bryant, operations manager for the Bureau's Klamath Basin Area Office.

Bryant said the Bureau tries to regulate releases from Upper Klamath Lake in order to fill the lake and keep it full as long as possible through the spring.

As the spring progresses, inflow will fall and demand for irrigation water will increase. By the end of summer, evaporation from the huge lake will nearly equal the inflow from the Williamson and Wood rivers and other small tributaries.

The lake is nearly a half-foot higher than last year at this time, and storage Tuesday was estimated at 474,418 acre-feet, up 37,961 acre-feet from last year.

Agency Lake Ranch, which the Bureau floods to add storage, is also full.

"It topped out about 10 days ago," Bryan said.

The National Weather Service reported that .39 inches fell at the Klamath Falls Airport Tuesday, and .21 of an inch fell before 10 a.m. today.

Precipitation has been about 90 percent of normal for the current water year, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30

Although precipitation for the year is below normal, recent rains have moistened soil in the Basin.

The soil moisture is very good, Bryant said.

Depending on what type of soil they have, the ground moisture could help farmers and ranchers in the early part of the growing season because they won't need irrigation water right away.

But they eventually will need it, said Rodney Todd, crops agent for the Oregon State University Extension Service in Klamath County.

"The bottom line here is that you can't grow crops without irrigation," Todd said.

Even with good soil moisture, irrigators are dependent on the snowpack and the streamflows that come from its melting. The mountain snowpack in Klamath County was estimated this morning at 59 percent of average for today's date.

Those streamflows are important because they boost the level of Upper Klamath Lake late in the growing season.

"The important thing about that storage is that is it not adequate enough to meet all the demands," Todd said.

"When you see that the precipitation is lower than normal and the snowpack is even lower than that, that's where the concern that there won't be enough water to meet normal demands comes from," he said.

The concern is even greater for irrigators who depend on Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir.

Clear Lake has 113,290 acre-feet in storage, down by 46,110 acre-feet from a year ago. Gerber has 26,519 acre-feet, down 18,311 acre-feet from last year.

Bryant said the Bureau and irrigators will wait until after the first of the month to see how much water will be available for crops. He said the recent rains has added some water to both reservoirs.

"But, it still doesn't look real good out there, it's going to take a lot more than this," he said.

Chuck Glaser, a data manager with the National Weather Service in Medford, said the rain was expected to slack off today, and it doesn't look like there should be anymore until Tuesday.

"There isn't much left on the radar now," he said.