Details of Klamath Basin water pact discussed; water, well restrictions with, without a settlement outlined

Klamath Basin Crisis – by LACEY JARRELL, Herald and News 3/12/14


Water user representatives say a proposed agreement can subside upper Basin water conflicts, but some ranchers aren’t buying it.


During a community meeting at the Bly Fire Hall Monday, Andrea Rabe, consultant to the Sprague River Water Resource Foundation and the Fort Klamath Critical Habitat Landowners, and Dani Watson, a representative of the Upper Klamath Water Users Association, met with upper Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers to lay out the nuts and bolts of the recently released Proposed Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement.  


More than 60 people attended the two-hour meeting.


According to Watson, landowners from six regions above Upper Klamath Lake need to voluntarily participate in two programs — the Water Use Program (WUP) and the riparian management program — for irrigators to meet agreement terms.        The WUP program requires 30,000 acre-feet increased specified instream flow (SIF) in tributaries flowing into Upper Klamath Lake. Much of that water is hoped to come from voluntary, permanent water right retirements. Rabe estimated about 16,000 land acres will have to be retired to reach the 30,000 acrefeet goal. She said 79.5 land acres have already been retired.


“If you meet the minimum instream flows, we should also be meeting the 30,000 (acre-feet) contribution from your area. If we meet the riparian management requirements, we’re pretty much set, but not everybody is going to be irrigating like they have in the past. It’s just not possible. This is the best deal we can come up with,” Watson said.


Watson called the riparian plan “landowner friendly” and said it’s likely many landowners already incorporate the restoration practices into their operations, but now they have to be documented.


“It is not a very wide strip, the maximum is 130 feet from the edge of the river, and not the edge of the river in March — the edge of the river in July or August,” Watson said.


According to Rabe, under today’s adjudication statute, once the annual water determination is released in early April, Klamath Tribes and Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators have senior rights to call for water. According to adjudication law, once a call is made, the Oregon Water   Resources Department (OWRD) can require shut-off of irrigation water sources for junior water right holders.


“The state has told us they will turn off every well within a mile of a water body. If you look at the upper Basin, there are 231 wells — that’s all the wells except for six. They are ready to roll that out this year, if we don’t have a settlement move forward,” Rabe said.


Vern Maldonado, an Upper Basin cattle rancher, said he irrigates his 300-acre ranch from one well located less than a quarter mile from the Sycan River and a little more than one mile from the Sprague River. Three wetlands have been created in the 30 years the property has been irrigated and excess water drains back into the river systems, he said.


“How could they possibly come to a logical decision like this?” Maldonado asked.


Rabe said under the agreement, irrigators who are now most vulnerable to adjudication shut-offs will gain some security. She said wells will no longer be subject strictly to adjudication law; instead, well regulations will be based on the distance from a “gaining reach,” or a stretch of stream that gains water from a tributary, springs, or other sources, as it flows downstream.


Every well must be determined to cause timely and effective stream interference before being shut-off, she added.


Audience member Bruce Topham asked, “How are they going to determine timely and effective?”


“Right now it’s based on a regional model; we asked the OWRD to do individual well models. If the individual model comes back that you are not timely and effectively interfering, you’re done.


If you don’t like the answer of the computer model, as a landowner you can do a pump test or an aquifer characterization to rebut that,” Rabe said.


If a well is less than 500 feet from a gaining reach, interconnectedness is assumed, and OWRD will treat the well like surface water, Rabe explained.


“There isn’t much that can be done,” she said.


Wells between 500 feet and a quarter mile from a gaining reach will only be considered for shut-off if instream flows are not met.


If inflow is missed by 5 to 10 percent, wells between a quarter mile and a half mile can be called for shut-off. When inflow is missed by more than 10 percent, senior water right holders can call wells between a half mile and a mile, Rabe said.


She explained that the new system adds protection for juniorwater-right groundwater systems because it provides an opportunity for surface water to makeup the inflow deficit.


“If they get that bump in the instream from the surface water, you would not experience a groundwater call,” Rabe said.


When wells are further than one mile from a gaining reach or within one mile of any water body, if 25 percent of the flow of a well is depleted from the water body in 30 days, it can also be called for shut-off, according to Rabe.


“Not very many wells fall into that category. I can only think of one,” she said. “That will be more the exception than the rule.”  ; @LMJatHandN

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