Link River

Link River in Klamath Falls is pictured in 2017 following a release of water by the Bureau of Reclamation to accommodate incoming water to Upper Klamath Lake.

Oregon Water Resources Department announced Thursday the state agency has taken charge of Upper Klamath Lake in Klamath Falls, according to a Marion County Circuit Court document obtained by Herald and News.

On April 3, Klamath Irrigation District filed in court to “ensure that stored water is not released out of Upper Klamath Lake reservoir through the Link River Dam except to meet the needs of secondary water right holders calling upon the source until the irrigation season ends on October 31.”

OWRD Director Thomas Byler sent a letter to Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office manager Jeff Nettleton on Thursday, confirming it has taken exclusive charge of the UKL for the purpose of dividing and distributing the water therefrom in accordance with the respective and relative rights of the various users of water from the ditch or reservoir.

The order said it prohibits U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from diverting stored water in Upper Klamath Lake through Link River for purposes of a 50,000 acre-feet flushing flow without a water right.

“This is a major paradigm shift,” said Ty Kliewer, president of the Klamath Irrigation District.

“We do have a property right that gets taken from us and hopefully this will be the beginning of the end of that,” he added.

Reclamation has been ordered to stop releasing stored water from the Upper Klamath Lake reservoir except in accordance with the relative and respective state law rights calling upon the stored water unless and until Reclamation provides the Department the following information in writing:

- The timing and the rate of the release of stored water authorized by secondary state law rights calling upon the stored water, and the corresponding names of the water users whose state law rights call upon that water.

- The rate of release(s) in excess of the needs of water users with state law rights calling on that stored water that may be considered natural flow as provided in ORS 540.045(3).

- Insofar as stored water is released for a purpose other than to satisfy state law rights, identify the dates(s) water is being released, the rate and volume of each release, and the source(s) of legal authority for each release.

“This is at heart a very, very simple issue and that is, ‘Does Reclamation have the right to use stored water in Upper Klamath Lake or does that right belong to the irrigators of the Project?” Kliewer said.

“The ruling today was specific to KID’s request, but this will benefit all Project irrigators,” Kliewer said.

The order from OWRD also stated that federal agencies are not relieved from any and all obligations to comply with federal law and related federal agency regulations or federal court orders as may be relevant to release of water from UKL.

Laura Williams, public information officer for Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office for Bureau of Reclamation, said that KBAO has received the order in writing from OWRD.

“We’re responding to that order,” Williams said.

“We’re required to do what our purpose is, which is to provide water to the irrigators and comply with ESA (Endangered Species Act), and that’s what we’re doing to the best of our ability.”