Context for the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2022 Upper Klamath Lake Allocations

Everyone, from Tribal interests and environmental lawyers to KWUA and supporters of Western agriculture, has criticized the Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement of this year’s Upper Klamath Lake water allocation.   Among the most outspoken against the Bureau of Reclamation’s spring allocation has been the Klamath Tribes.  In a recent press release (see at the end) the Klamath Tribes’ board, led by Don Gentry and Clay Dumont, have decried, “ . . . Reclamation intends to usurp “up to 62,000 acre feet” of water from the nearly extinct and (Klamath Tribes) treaty protected C’waam (Lost River sucker) and Koptu (shortnose sucker) a the height of their spawning season.”

However, their statement and complaint  lacks the factual context of what is actually happening this year with the allocations from Upper Klamath Lake. Based on the Bureau’s allocations and what has been requested, here’s what water year 2022 is shaping up to look like:

A pie chart showing the allocations on Upper Klamath Lake by percentage.
Upper Klamath Lake 2022 allocations, by percentage
  • The current volume of water in Upper Klamath Lake is 496,000 acre feet. For reference, an acre-foot of water is the volume of water needed to flood one acre of level acre of land one foot deep, which is equivalent to 325,851 gallons. The 496,000 acre feet of water in Upper Klamath Lake is approximately 162 billion gallons of water.
  • Between April 1st and September 30, 2022:
    • Projected inflow to Upper Klamath Lake: 210,000 acre feet
    • Releases to Klamath River: 407,000 acre feet, which is equivalent to 5.57 feet of depth in Upper Klamath Lake
    • Water estimated to evaporate from Upper Klamath Lake: 290,000 acre feet, which is equivalent to 3.39 feet of depth on the lake
    • Projected irrigation water allocation: 50,000 acre feet, which is approximately equivalent to 0.65 feet of depth in Upper Klamath Lake.

Also to be taken into consideration:

  • In years with comparable water availability, past irrigation allocations have been 400,000 acre feet
    • That would be 800% more than the current expectation for irrigation
    • Two-acre feet of water used for irrigation will produce about 50,000 pounds of potatoes or 6,000 pounds of wheat
    • The estimated 50,000 acre feet (not 62,000)  for Klamath Basin agriculture is not a guaranteed allocation – it could be significantly less
A chart showing The 2022 Allocation of Upper Klamath Lake Water by Acre Foot
The 2022 Allocation of Upper Klamath Lake Water by Acre Foot

Evaluating those numbers, several items stand out:

  • Water dedicated to Klamath River flows of 407,000 acre feet is drastically more than the estimated inflow of 210,000 acre feet to Upper Klamath Lake 
  • Estimated water allocated to agriculture is only 5% (at most) of all the water used in Upper Klamath Lake
  • 407,000 acre feet sent down the Klamath River for salmon (40% of available water) appears to be more harmful to Upper Klamath Lake levels than the hoped allocation of 50,000 acre feet to Klamath Basin agriculture and food production  

While the Klamath Tribes’ board “is tired of hearing” about the challenges Klamath Basin family farmers and ranchers are facing, to completely lay the blame on “settler society” is unwarranted. 

The allocation for Klamath agriculture is an unguaranteed 5%. Any allocation from Upper Klamath Lake would move through the Klamath Project, providing water in the former wetlands for wildlife habitat and enable food production and support to rural communities. 

Instead, the bulk of the water – and then some – that would have moved throughout the Klamath Project, mimicking the natural flow of the Lost River – is diverted to the Klamath River in an unnatural manner that offers no relief to our national refuges or the lands Klamath Basin wildlife depend upon.

Though KWUA disagrees with the Klamath Tribes that the 50,000 acre feet is being “usurped”, we can agree with their statement “It is time for all involved to come to terms with the fact that this homeland ecosystem we all share and profess to love has limits.” Evaluating the numbers above, there is a great deal of reckoning that needs to be dealt with.