FA Note – This action by the Klamath Tribes, under authority of the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement (UKBCA), highlights what is likely in Montanan’s future, via the Consolidated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact signed into law last week.
Water shutoffs could begin as early as next week. Since Monday, water calls have been made on 10 Basin streams, including the Sprague, Sycan, and Wood rivers.
According to Scott White, watermaster for the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) office in Klamath Falls, one call (w)as made by a private water user with an 1864 adjudicated water right. The other streams were called on by the Klamath Tribes.
OWRD adjudication regulation provides surface water rights based on priority date of property claims: The older the claim date, the more senior the water right. Junior water users’ irrigation water can be shut off until senior rights are satisfied. The Klamath Tribes have a “time immemorial” right, making them the most senior water users in the Basin.
Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry said the calls were made to elevate water levels to instream flows agreed upon by stakeholders in the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement, a pact designed by upper Basin stakeholders to balance water needs. Gentry explained that once a call is validated, the waterway will be regulated until flows are met. Once flows are met, OWRD will continue monitoring them to ensure senior water rights are honored. The only stream that has been regulated in 2015 is Sand Creek, which was called on by a private landowner on April 1.
White said OWRD officials must assess water levels before they can validate this week’s water calls. Right now, it’s premature to say how many landowners will be impacted or how much water use will have to be scaled back. “It’s a matter of sitting down and assessing what priority date to cut water off at,” White said.
He noted that Wood River levels are short by about 80 cubic feet per second. Irrigators who are regulated will receive shutoff notices by mail, White said. More streams could be called on, according to Gentry.
“We’ll continue to monitor to see if there are other streams that may need to be regulated,” Gentry said. “I know it’s going to be a particularly difficult water year.”