As the New Year nears, officials this month reflected on water so far in 2019 and the impact it has had to date in the Klamath Project.
Jeff Nettleton, manager for the Klamath Basin Area Office for the Bureau of Reclamation, called 2019 a “cool” and “wet” year; an average year for water allocation with less demand from agriculture, and more water for the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge in an interview with H&N in mid-December.
Working with on-Project water users, Reclamation sent the refuge about 30,000 acre feet of water this fall, which Nettleton said made a huge impact.
“They literally were considering the possibility of closing all their hunting seasons on the refuge, which has never happened, prior to us being able to get that water to them,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”
Nettleton said the water year in October with Upper Klamath Lake sat with 1.3 feet higher than under the previous biological opinion.
“If you look at the period record, it was the median year,” he added. “In an average year, we were able to do both a deep and surface flushing flow through the (Klamath) River.”
Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry believes the higher lake levels can be attributed to better water quality.
“We avoided the second late (algal) bloom, which is usually problematic for the fish,” Gentry said.
“We saw some positive benefits,” he added.
The Klamath Tribes made a call on tributaries this year to benefit fisheries, under their rights in the Treaty of 1864.
Gentry said 2019 also included significant difficulties in protecting fish downstream, which the tribes considers part of its fisheries.
“It’s our hope that once the dams come out, we’ll be able to restore the fish up here so we’re trying to do the best to protect the fisheries, whether they’re in the lake or downstream, so I know it was fairly difficult this year with the limited releases,” Gentry said.
Nettleton said that Reclamation was able to provide what he called an adequate water supply because of the weather in the Basin during the last year.
Paul Simmons, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association, confirmed the lower need for water from agriculture than in past years.
“The demand for irrigation water was less than it might otherwise have been in a different weather year situation,” Simmons said. “We were fortunate, people managed carefully, and we were able to get a lot more water to the refuge than anyone would have dreamed back in April.
“2019 – we were sort of anxious all through the year in the sense of … the allocation was low and significantly less than we have needed in some years. But sort of because of the way the weather went with good soil conditions starting out, and cool weather, and some timely precipitation, we made it.
“It was good cooperation with the waterfowl groups and with the fish and wildlife and the bureau and us to try to do something in the circumstances where we could for the neighbor,” Simmons added.
Heading into 2020, the snow water equivalent is 57% of normal, according to the Snotel site as of Monday.
Nettleton said the Snow Bomb Cyclone that entered the area prior to Thanksgiving brought snow levels up — but not enough.
“I hope the precipitation keeps coming because we are still a little below average,” Nettleton said.
“To the extent that we build big snow pack in the Cascades, that is where our additional storage is .... That water sitting in the snowpack on the Cascades is our carry-over storage, that then comes in to Upper Klamath Lake later in the spring and early summer.”