Basin water allocation tightens
Reservoirs drawn down to their limits
by Lacey Jarrell
Herald & News
August 6, 2014
The intense, but brief, rain events during recent thunderstorms have done little to improve the Basin’s water outlook.
Marc Spilde, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Medford, said Monday night’s showers registered .12 inches at the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport. Before that, the last measurable rainfall occurred July 11, according to meteorologist Mike Stavish.
He said .003 inches were recorded that day.
Other “trace” events were noted in July, but did not deposit enough precipitation to be recorded, he added.
Stavish said as of Monday, Klamath Falls has received 7.33 inches of precipitation since Sept. 1. Normal is 14.57 inches.
“That’s almost exactly half,” he said.
Since Jan. 1, 6.59 inches of precipitation have been recorded at the Klamath Falls airport, which is 70.5 percent of normal.
“It’s not as discouraging as the water year perspective,” Stavish said.
According to Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Basin Hydromet Data, Upper Klamath Lake was 36 percent full Monday. Gerber and Clear Lake reservoirs were nearly empty: Gerber Reservoir is only 2 percent full, with a level of 4,799.6 feet, and Clear Lake Reservoir is 8 percent full at 32,540 feet.
Irrigators who receive water from Gerber Reservoir received 15,067 acre-feet this year. Irrigators who receive water from Clear Lake didn’t get any.
According to Bureau of Reclamation Area Office Manager Sheryl Franklin, extremely dry conditions caused inflows into Upper Klamath Lake to be significantly lower than the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) estimated for the BOR 2014 Operations Plan.
Based on NRCS data, the plan stated in April that 239,000 acre-feet would be available for the 2014 irrigation season. Limited inflows into the Klamath watershed caused that figure to be reduced to roughly 228,000 acre-feet, according to Klamath Water Users Association Executive Director Greg Addington.
Franklin said as of Aug. 1 only 32,000 acre-feet remain available for Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators who receive water from Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River.
“My guess is that 32,000 acre-feet is a little less than what we need to get everybody through,” Addington said.
Franklin said if or when Project allocations are shut off depends on several factors, including precipitation, crop progress and how rapidly irrigators use the water.
Production cut in half
In a normal water year, Project irrigators might use up to 400,000 acre-feet, according to Addington. He said the limited NRCS estimate, and the further water reduction, disrupts an economy that should otherwise be clicking along. He noted that instead of farmers getting three or four cuttings of alfalfa, many are only getting one or two.
“You’re basically cutting production in half,” Addington said.
Hay and grain farmer Rodney Cheyne said as long as irrigators have water for the rest of the season, things should be fine. Cheyne said he needs about one-half to three-quarter acre-foot to finish his harvests.
Early shutoffs for the Project will have a “detrimental impact” to his financial situation, he added.
Cheyne noted if shutoffs occur before the irrigation season ends Oct. 15, the effects will carry into next year’s crops. He said no water means fall and winter crop seeds won’t germinate.
“You’ll be behind before you even start the next year,” he said.
Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Association (KWAPA), said this season’s management of available water by west side Klamath Project irrigators has been a “tremendous success.”
He said this year could have been disastrous for Warren Act contractors, which make up about 50,000 acres of the Project. He said initial estimates said the Warren contractors were not scheduled to receive any water, but they ended up getting about 1 acre-foot for the season. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing at all, Cannon said.
He pointed out the 2001 irrigation season was delayed until the crops were damaged.
“As far as total water delivered, 2014 is not as bad as those years, but it does get bad from here.”
The forecast for the next three months is warm and dry, according to Mike Stavish, a meteorologist for the Medford Weather Service.
Stavish said the Climate Prediction Center has no clear signal whether Klamath Falls will receive higher or lower than normal precipitation, but temperatures in August, September and October are expected to be above normal.
Weather experts predict more scattered thunderstorms through tonight. Stavish noted atmospheric moisture content is well below normal moist thunderstorms.
“Any lightning we get is going to be a candidate to produce fires,” Stavish said.
Toxic algae bloom affects Klamath River, reservoirs
According to the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, a health advisory has been issued for the Klamath River in Northern California. Toxic blue-green algae blooms, called cyanobacteria, are affecting Copco and Iron Gate reservoirs and the Klamath River below Iron Gate Dam. The advisory is in effect from the reservoirs to Weitchpec, Calif. on the Yurok Reservation.
The health advisories warn against human and animal contact with the water. Residents can still enjoy recreational activities at the reservoirs and along the Klamath River, but they should take precautions to avoid contact with waters near the blooms, the release said.
Exposure to toxic blue-green algae can cause eye irritation, allergic skin rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea, and cold and flu-like symptoms.