Tulelake groundwater tapped by Bureau



June 2, 2004


By Dan Keppen, Klamath Water Users Association


The Tri-County Courier


1565 Santa Ana Valley Rd.


Hollister, CA 95023-9741





As Klamath Basin water supply concerns mount, every effort is being taken to avoid the threat of water curtailment to the agriculture industry served by the Klamath Reclamation Project. 


Twelve private well owners on the California side of the Klamath Basin have been asked by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to provide well water to assist with maintaining higher levels in Upper Klamath Lake for endangered fish. 


The co-called “ Coppock Bay ” groundwater pumpers are one of three consolidated groups of well pumpers who developed proposals this year capable of quickly generating groundwater supplies to offset demands out of Upper Klamath Lake .  Tulelake Irrigation District and the “Mid-Basin” coalition are two other organizations that provide this capability.


Minimum lake levels in Upper Klamath Lake are mandated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological opinion -- to avoid jeopardizing two species of sucker fish. 


These levels are reflective of the “year type” -- determined by precipitation and runoff predictions.


The Coppock Bay well owners have agreed to pump ground water needed to irrigate the lands that they farm, up to 3 acre-feet per acre. 


At this time, the Bureau of Reclamation will call for the groundwater on an “as needed” basis.


The Bureau’s 2004 Pilot Water Bank Program was implemented in April.  Some farmlands have been idled and some well owners are participating in the ground water substitution program. 


Under contract with the Bureau of Reclamation, participating farmers will not use Klamath Project lake water for irrigation but will be compensated instead for using their wells to irrigate their fields.   This program is intended to provide more water for endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon downstream in the Klamath River .  By maintaining higher lake levels, the possibility of a water curtailment is reduced.


“The water is not being sold,” said Monte Seus, a farmer in Tulelake.  “The water that is being replaced by the well water will be available to all who depend on and use water from Upper Klamath Lake .”


Ongoing aquifer studies by the Oregon Water Resources Department, the California Department of Water Resources, and the U.S. Geological Survey will continue to monitor ground water levels in an effort to better understand the aquifer.


In the past -- including in 2001, when Upper Klamath Lake supplies were curtailed -- well owners have pumped “environmental water” at their own expense in an effort to assist fish and wildlife in the basin and to avoid costly litigation.


Last year, approximately 30,000 acre-feet of water was pumped by Oregon well owners and Tulelake Irrigation District -- with no federal compensation -- to help the Bureau of Reclamation meet the minimum lake level and river flow requirements mandated by fishery agency biological opinions.


“Hopefully, the future will not require continued well pumping and farmers will enjoy a more abundant supply of Klamath Lake water that will sustain fish, wildlife, agriculture, and Native American rights,” said Gary Wright, who owns a ranch near Tulelake.