KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — With a heavy snow in the mountains, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has decided to release a small amount of irrigation water to some farmers who typically leave their fields flooded in the winter.
Water began flowing to the Klamath Drainage District on Wednesday, an area that includes mostly grain farms about 15 miles south of Klamath Falls. The district makes up about 10 percent of the entire Klamath Reclamation Project.
Reclamation officials said they can drain some water from the Klamath River and still conserve enough water in Upper Klamath Lake to keep the lake at the minimum level required by Jan. 1.
The Bureau of Reclamation is required to raise the lake level to 4,140 feet above sea level by that date, while maintaining a flow of 1,300 cubic feet per second in the Klamath River at Iron Gate Dam in California’s Siskiyou County.
The river flows are designed to protect threatened coho salmon, while the lake level protects endangered sucker fish.
About 200 cubic feet of water per second began flowing from the Klamath River through the North Canal near Midland, Bryant said. About 150 cubic feet per second will go to fields in the Klamath Drainage District, while 50 cubic feet per second will go to the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.
Flooding of grain fields will provide a wintertime habitat for migratory waterfowl and bald eagles, said Jim Bryant, chief of land and water operations for the Klamath Reclamation Project.
Farmers in the Lower Klamath Lake area typically flood their fields in the winter and then draw the water off in the spring before they plant grain.
The water content of the snowpack in the Upper Klamath Basin was 169 percent of average on Wednesday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.