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Klamath Project irrigation:
Basin water outlook grim, Snowpack called ‘worst in the state’
   Herald and News by Lacey Jarrell 5/1/14
     Klamath Project farmers are steeling themselves for an uncertain irrigation season.

   “If we get any water on our second cutting (of alfalfa), we’ll be really lucky,” cattle rancher John Hall told the Herald and News recently. “I don’t think there’s going to be water for a third.”

   Hall said the second cutting usually harvests in late July.

   “You gotta deal with the cards that are dealt to you,” he added. “That’s what we all do.”

   According to Klamath Irrigation District (KID) manager Mark Stuntebeck, KID began taking water orders April 18 and made its first deliveries the next day.  

   Although the orders were not as high as Stuntebeck anticipated, he said the demand is significant.

   “This has been a pretty dry winter and spring so the ground doesn’t have the normal precipitation that would be coming off a normal winter,” he said.

   Rainfall lacking

   Precipitation conditions in the Klamath Basin are still well below normal, according to Ryan Sandler, a Medford National Weather Service meteorologist. As of Monday, April 28, only 0.2 inches — twotenths of an inch — of precipitation had fallen for the month at the Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport in Klamath Falls. Normal is 1.25 inches.

   “April overall was a very bad month,” Sandler said.  

   Since Jan. 1, precipitation is 1.5 inches below normal. On average, Klamath Falls receives 6.29 inches of precipitation between Jan. 1 and May 1. This year, the monitor has only captured 4.79 inches. Last year, Sandler said, was even worse — only 2.53 inches fell during the same period.

   The current level of snowpack at Crater Lake is 59   percent of normal: As of Sunday, April 27, the snowpack level read 62 inches. Normal is 106 inches, Sandler said, adding that 2014 is tied for the 13th lowest accumulation since recording began in the early 1900s.

   As of Tuesday, the Basin’s snowpack-water equivalent was 24 percent of normal, according to Sandler.
       “It’s the worst in the state,” he said.

   Some rain is in the forecast, but not much. High temperatures followed by a cool period are predicted; the upcoming hotter temperatures will melt the snowpack faster, Sandler said.

   “We’re getting to the time of year where we don’t get steady, long durations of rainfall,” he said.

   Still some unknowns

   Bill Heiney, a board member of the Tulelake Irrigation District (TID), said the water outlook is better than it was two months ago, but how much water will be available is still a “big unknown.”

   “Everybody has concerns. It depends on how our summer goes with   storms,” Heiney said.

   Meteorologist Sandler said the 30-day forecast for May is calling for higher than average temperatures and below normal rainfall. The three-month forecast shows similar patterns.

   “It’s not encouraging, that’s for sure,” he said.

   In March, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) announced on-project farmers and ranchers will have 239,000 acre-feet for the 2014 irrigation season.  

   KID manager Stuntebeck said until the final results of the Klamath Water and Power Authority (KWAPA) Water Users Mitigation Program (WUMP) are known, it’s hard to say if the water will last.

   He doesn’t know how many irrigators are participating in the program through which they “bid” an application to be paid for not diverting surface water to grow crops.

   “There is a significant shortfall of supply. If that can’t be made up, there isn’t enough water to get through the season,” Stuntebeck said.  

   Heiney, who also is chairman of the KWAPA board of directors, estimates irrigators will be paid by the WUMP program to idle about 16,000 acres without water this year.

   Brad Kirby, assistant to the TID manager, echoed concerns about the water deficit facing irrigators.

   “It’s going to take a lot of effort from each individual farmer, from each district,” Kirby said.

   He said TID managers are meeting weekly with officials from the BOR to monitor water use. Kirby said current water figures are being compared   to historic figures in the hopes of deriving patterns that can help ensure water deliveries. But as of now, Kirby said, it’s impossible to gauge how the season might play out.

   “I’m optimistic. As long as we can mitigate things as they come about, I think we’ll get through the season,” Kirby said.  

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; @LMJatHandN  

  WATER USE: Sprinklers fire water on farm land seen from North Poe Valley Road.

   H&N photos by Dave Martinez



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