Having nearly completed water irrigation shutoffs on the Sprague River, the watermaster and his team have moved to the Williamson this week.
In the next couple of weeks, shutoffs also are expected on the Wood River — the third of the big three in the upper Klamath Basin.
The shutoffs are the result of a recent call for water of senior water right holders on Klamath Lake and on the lower irrigation project. Thousands of acres of irrigated land and as many as 100,000 cattle may be affected by the shutoffs.
While the Basin was pelted with rain this week, watermaster Scott White said rainwater takes time to enter the rivers and influence the gauges measuring water flows. Asked about the rain’s affect on potential shutoffs, he said the overall strategy hasn’t changed.
A more influential variable is the date. Minimum required flows will be slightly less Monday. If at all possible, the watermaster may turn on some of the closed diversion dams. Yet as flows tend to drop during the hotter months, it’s unclear if that will happen, he said. Temperatures this weekend are expected to reach the upper 90s, too.
After calls for water made June 10 by the Klamath Tribes and Klamath Project irrigators, the state of Oregon began contacting irrigators to curtail their water usage. The majority have reportedly been compliant.
The shutoffs are a learning curve for the watermaster, as each river has its own character and its own brand of water users. Whereas the Sprague River has long stretches with a good number of large agricultural operations on it, such as expansive ranches, White said the Williamson River is shorter with more residential water users intermixed with farms and ranches.
The Williamson absorbs the Sprague’s flows and empties into Upper Klamath Lake. The lake is the main storage for irrigation on the Klamath Project and provides water for the Klamath River.
White said because there are many residential water users on the Williamson, he is visiting the landowners face-to-face. Answering their questions also means the shutoff is a slow-moving process.
To ease the complex process, the Oregon Water Resources Department continues to send a platoon of watermasters to help White. He has been joined by employees from Bend, Medford, Salem and Lakeview, who will work on a rotation this summer in the Klamath Basin.
As White began regulating the Williamson River June 26, final work on the Sprague was undertaken by local assistant watermaster Garrett Steensland and Ned Gates, an assistant watermaster from Bend.
A key component of deciding who gets shut off, and when, comes down to accurate stream measurements.
In the Klamath Basin, 11 gauging stations provide near real-time flow data accessible online via satellites. Those numbers are then crunched by folks in Salem. The watermasters manually check depth and stream velocity to make sure they’re receiving reliable data. In this case, reliable means a guy in waders.
White mentioned that residents along the Williamson are being regulated off their usage of surface water drawn from the river or tributary streams. However, allowances are still made for irrigating up to a half-acre of land if they use wells.
The watermaster added that provisions are made for drinking water for humans and stockwater for animals. Explaining such specific details is another reason he said he prefers to speak with landowners one-on-one.
As the season progresses, and in future years, White hopes to draw upon his personal contacts to make the regulatory process easier. “Next year, this should go a lot smoother,” he said.
A little background on the issue: http://www.heraldandnews.com/members/news/frontpage/article_b947b728-d583-11e2-a1e2-0019bb2963f4.html
This has happened before back in 2001, see this article (http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2001/07/01/klamath-falls-bucket-brigade-protests-water-shutoff) but this time it is with more regulations and apparently the people here are ready to start shooting one another over it.
This is from our local news last week:
Published on Jun 22, 2013 by news10ktvl1
By KTVL Staff/KTVL.com KLAMATH COUNTY, Ore. – Klamath Tribes chairman Don Gentry says more water will be shut off to meet senior water rights. Gentry said the Klamath Tribes have had senior water rights dating back to 1864 because they were the first people on the land. He said the shut-offs are affecting tribal members who are also irrigators. Gentry said the water rights issue in the county is not an issue of farmers and ranchers against tribes or fish versus agriculture, but rather a lack of policy enforcement by the state and federal government.Our rights were never ever protected, people have been allowed to develop irrigation and use more and more water, Gentry said. It’s been a very accelerated development of irrigation. The chairman said the Klamath Tribes never sold their water rights and they are more than willing to work with ranchers through the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. Gentry said the Watermaster is moving on to shut off junior users in the Williamson and Wood River systems.