The mood on the current water year forecast at Oregon Water Resources Department’s open house on Tuesday in Chiloquin was one of ‘wait and see’ until more information is available as early as January 2020.
The informal gathering was held as an exchange of resources and a chance to ask officials about water regulation on the Klamath Project and Upper Klamath Basin.
Ken Stahr is the program manager of surface water hydrology for OWRD, chairs the state’s Water Supply Availability Committee, and co-chairs the Drought Readiness Council.
Stahr, one of about a dozen OWRD staff on hand for the gathering, said despite recent storms in the Klamath Basin, levels aren’t what they should be.
“... for this time of year, we are behind as far as water supply goes,” Stahr said.
Precipitation in the Klamath Basin is currently at 50% of where is should be this time of year, according to Stahr.
The snow water equivalent is 75%, but Stahr said it’s premature until January to gauge from it what kind of year it will be.
“We’re a little bit concerned but it’s also a little bit early,” Stahr said.
Randall Kizer, a rancher in the Wood River Valley in the Upper Klamath Basin, was among attendees at the open house.
While he said he’s happy to see precipitation through the recent snow and rain in the Basin, he’s cautious about being too optimistic about the water year, given the last year and the outcome for he and other ag producers.
“You need wet snow and then you need it to clear off and freeze,” Kizer said.
“The snow that’s there under those circumstances is there until the middle of June or later.”
From gauging what the water year could look like to a gathering place for agriculture producers, the open house served as a way for OWRD staff to exchange information about the water year with those who need it.
“Answer questions, ask questions, exchange information,” said Dani Watson, watermaster for Klamath County.
“It plays into the whole call for water,” Watson added. “People sometimes don’t understand how that works.”
The Klamath Basin is the only region in Kyle Gorman’s management area – Deschutes Basin and Klamath and Lake counties – that has its own website for tracking water calls for action.
“(Water) It affects so many people, it’s so widespread,” Gorman said. “And it’s so complicated.”
Gorman has worked for OWRD for 18 years and said the last several have experienced the most change in regulation.
“The Klamath Basin in 2013 completely changed,” Gorman said. “There was existing adjudicated areas and there was minor regulation but once the general adjudication for the entire Basin came out, that changed everything. We went from very small, minor regulations to complete stream regulations, top to bottom – every water right holder.”
Much of the complication of the groundwater system is also the geology of the area, according to hydrogeologist Mike Thoma.
“Everything’s getting diverted in different ways,” Thoma said.
“It just adds complication.”
Another item addressed at the open house was next steps by OWRD in regard to well regulation at present and in the coming years.
“By March of 2021, we have to take some action to renew, possibly revise Division 25 rules,” said Tom Paul, special assistant to the director of OWRD.
New short-term Division 25 rules were approved by the Oregon Water Commission in April that regulate wells within 500 feet of surface water. The rules impact seven wells.
“We’ll need something in place to move forward,” Paul said.
“The next step is to potentially put together a rules advisory committee and let the committee then provide input as to what their recommendation suggestions are moving forward,” he added.
For more information, visit OWRD’s website at https://www.oregon.gov/owrd/Pages/index.aspx.