Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office continues to operate under the 2013 Biological Opinion while a new document is being created, along with the court-ordered injunction in place to guide the Klamath Project, according Moss Driscoll, who shared a water operations update on Thursday with the Klamath Irrigation District board of directors.
April 1 is a tentative goal for the completion of the new biological opinion, and includes portions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.
“Is it going to abide by state water law or is it going to break the law?” asked Grant Knoll, a member of the KID board, during Driscoll’s presentation.
Driscoll chuckled lightly and said, “Obviously, there’s perspectives on that in terms of its consistencies. Reclamation has to follow state law. It also has to follow federal law so that’s the hard spot we’re in, between a rock and a hard place.”
He emphasized that the new biological opinion would need to be consistent with Oregon and California water law.
“As of Feb. 8, Upper Klamath Lake was approximately 38,000 acre feet below where the proposed action would have Upper Klamath Lake,” Driscoll said. “It was greater in January by almost double, so we are closing that gap. But this issue of how we would transition to this new proposed action and this deficit that we are in right now with respect to where the lake would be otherwise is one of the issues in transitioning obviously, and could affect, obviously, the Project and could affect early season operations again.”
Jared Bottcher, deputy area manager of the Klamath Basin Area Office, said it is “highly speculative” at this point to say how Project water users would be impacted, but that more information would be available in a fortcoming transition plan.
“We’re working with the services on a transition plan,” Driscoll said, refencing the federal agencies involved in creating the new biological opinion.
“We are just about to transmit a revised or amended proposed action, which they will have to further analyze,” Driscoll added.
Driscoll said Reclamation is still subject to meeting monthly calculated thresholds on Upper Klamath Lake as well as the Klamath River flow requirements in the court-ordered injunction.
“We are currently scheduled to just meet our end of February thresholds,” Driscoll said. “The thresholds adjust so we anticipate that threshold will move, likely up, based on the precipitation we’re experiencing.”
Because of lake level requirements, Reclamation has no water available in Upper Klamath Lake for flushing flows that would be required under the court-ordered injunction, Driscoll said.
“If there were to be any kind of flushing flow in the month of February, it would have to be from accretions downstream of Link River,” Driscoll said. “We do anticipate pretty large accretions from this latest event … rain on snow … but not nearly of the magnitude that would be necessary to provide those flushing flow requirements.”
Bottcher added that 2019 storms in January and February has positioned the Basin in a much better spot than this time in 2018.
“We’re at 92 percent of average for snow water equivalent,” Bottcher said. “So I would say we’re in the normal to average water year range and that’s certainly much improved from where we sat this time last year.”
When asked if Reclamation is optimistic about the water year, Bottcher stopped short of that description.
“We’re certainly thankful for the precipitation,” Bottcher said.
“We caught up to a large degree.”