In response to projected water supplies that may be less than half of typical Klamath Project demand, local water users have taken steps to incentivize management actions to stretch those available supplies.
The Klamath Project Drought Response Agency (DRA) is expected to open programs for enrollment on April 15.
Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) has calculated the irrigation water supply available from Upper Klamath Lake — known as the “Project Supply” — likely to be available to the Klamath Project this year. This year’s Project Supply — estimated to be approximately 140,000 acre-feet – was calculated after receipt of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) April 1 assessment of Upper Klamath Basin run-off for the irrigation season.
The Project Supply is the water available to serve approximately 170,000 acres served primarily through the Klamath Irrigation District, Tulelake Irrigation District (TID), and Klamath Drainage District. The Project Supply does not include any water from the Lost River system that becomes available to those areas through the Lost River Diversion Channel or other limited sources.
“Bottom line, we’re looking at less than half of the water that’s needed,” said TID Manager Brad Kirby, who calculated the current estimate of Project Supply.
It is possible the Project Supply number would go up slightly based on May 1 Basin water conditions, but it will not go down. KWUA’s calculations are based on the NRCS forecast and a draft Interim Operations Plan released by the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) for environmental review on April 1 for a 10-day public comment period. Reclamation will announce final Project Supply allocation after reviews are complete, most likely on April 17.
The east side of the Klamath Project, consisting of 30,000 acres in Langell Valley and Horsefly Irrigation Districts, relies exclusively on the Lost River system, including Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoirs. The east side should have a full supply available this year.
While the Project Supply estimate is discouraging, local water users are taking proactive steps to develop demand management actions that will partially compensate for this year’s lower supply.
The DRA is a partnership of Klamath Project districts formed in 2018 to address drought conditions. The DRA board of directors met on April 6, and was briefed on the outlook by Kirby. Later in that meeting, the DRA adopted policies to incentivize groundwater use, and on April 10 will consider the approval of a program for land idling by growers who normally use surface water. The DRA plans to open the programs for enrollment on April 15.
“We’re optimistic we will have about $10 million to work with this year,” said DRA President Marc Staunton, noting that, even though there are still some uncertainties, the DRA believes it is in a position to plan and move forward. “We’re doing our best to make contracts available as soon as we can.”
Staunton encouraged landowners to consider contracts for land idling this year, and noted that people who agree not to irrigate can also apply for cover crop programs through NRCS.
KWUA President Tricia Hill said that Klamath Project districts, KWUA, and the DRA are coordinating with Reclamation on the best potential management of the limited supply on an ongoing basis.
“KWUA and others are working very hard to make a bad situation as tolerable as it can be,” said Hill. “We don’t like what we are facing one bit, and it can be better in the future, but we have to work with what we have this year.”
The DRA is currently conducting its meetings electronically, and attendance by the public is encouraged.
NRCS Programs can be accessed through the NRCS Conservation Client Gateway at www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/cgate/. Agency contacts for Klamath County include Allen Moody (email@example.com or 541-887-3508) and Alex Gajdosik (firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-887-3507). In California, the contact for Modoc and Siskiyou Counties is Allison West (email@example.com or 530-667-4727).
For more information visit www.klamathwaterbank.com.