Oregon Water Resources Department is in the process of validating a call on Upper Klamath Lake tributaries, including the Wood River, filed by senior water right holders — the Klamath Tribes — on April 18.
The call, which has been validated in some locations, but not yet others, will last through October and asks the state water agency to monitor and regulate stream flow in the stream reaches. A full list of stream reaches that are part of the call can be found online at www.heraldandnews.com.
“The Tribes and the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) believe that various Tribal water right claims for in-stream flows and elevation levels will require enforcement based on available gage and collected data, on our understanding of the system, and on the potential for activities that divert surface water for various purposes,” said Tribal Chairman Don Gentry said in the letter addressed to OWRD Watermaster Danette Watson.
“To the extent allowable by law consistent with enforcement against other water users, this call for regulation is not intended to impact domestic water users.”
Gentry could not be reached for additional comment by press time.
Validating a claim
Watson said a call on water can come in the form of a phone call or printed letter from a water user to the state water agency. She said the Tribes usually send a letter.
Water users that irrigate can call the watermaster’s office if they believe someone with a junior water right to theirs is irrigating with water that should be coming to them.
It’s up to the watermaster’s office to validate or approve the request.
“We go up to the stream, we measure it,” Watson said.
“The call is either valid, which would mean we would have to do some kind of enforcement regulation, or else the stream is above the determined claim, and we don’t do anything then.”
The new norm
Regulation in the Upper Basin tributaries is nothing new, according to Watson.
“It’s the new norm,” Watson said.
A call was also made by the Klamath Tribes on the Wood River in Spring 2018, which was designated a drought year.
Without a drought designation, the Tribes believe regulation in the Upper Klamath Basin is still needed to meet their priority water right.
“Stream flow is incredibly dependent on snowfall and precipitation,” Watsons said. “There is also the component of previous years, the antecedent moisture. So if you were to have four or five years of drought, it is going to play out entirely different than one year of drought. So all of that comes into play.
“Also the timing for when the snow starts melting. There’s still snow at Crater Lake and obviously that will contribute to Annie Creek flow, which will contribute to the Wood River flows. But I don’t know when that will start necessarily really melting off. It’s so dependent on conditions that not only exist today but have existed over several years.
“We got a lot of snow when typically we’re starting to taper off,” Watson added.
Watson said she’s been getting feedback on the call from several Upper Basin irrigators.
“A little confusion about, ‘Gee, it seems like we had a pretty good year for precip, why are we being regulated?” Watson said. “That seems to be the big question.
Not yet a drought year
“We are required to regulate to meet the Tribal in-stream determined claim,” Watson added. “If and when we reach the determined claim, any excess above that determined claim, we will work with the irrigators to determine how to distribute that according to Oregon water law … We will attempt to distribute any excess water according to priority date.”
Since it’s not a drought year, OWRD cannot provide relief to water users impacted by the regulations.
“We aren’t able to provide any water for livestock, so that’s made it a little more difficult on some of these folks,” she said. “We are strictly regulatory.”
Questions about water use in your area? Contact Watson at 541-883-4182 or visit the office inside the Klamath County Government Center, 335 S. Spring St., in downtown Klamath Falls.