Even after one of the wettest winters in living memory, Oregon’s only national park is running short on water as it heads toward its high season.
Ordinarily, Crater Lake National Park’s main water supply is Annie Creek, a tributary in southern Oregon that runs along state Highway 62 to the south of the park, which the park uses for its drinking water, showers in its lodges and more. However, after the Klamath Tribes placed a water call, or request, on the river that Annie Creek flows into in April, the national park has resorted to working with a California company to truck water in from Chiloquin, a stopgap measure before the rest of the snow melts and summer tourism at the park begins in earnest.
“We’ve never had to do this before,” said Marsha McCabe, spokeswoman for Crater Lake National Park. “We’re in a situation right now where we can’t use our main water supply.”
Kyle Gorman, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department, said Oregon, like many Western states, lets users with senior water rights retain water from upstream when they’re receiving less than they’re entitled to. In this case, Gorman said, water from Annie Creek that would usually go to Crater Lake can’t be diverted there.
Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, said the tribes have rights dating to “time immemorial” on the water that flows into the rivers feeding North Klamath Lake, by virtue of treaties made before Oregon’s first unified water code was approved in 1909. The Klamath Tribes, a coalition of tribes near the Klamath Basin, manage the Wood River for habitat and wildlife restoration.
Klamath Tribes have placed several calls for water from the Wood River with the Oregon Water Resources Department over the past 12 months, most recently April 13, according to the Oregon Water Resources Department’s database.
Unlike calls on water made during 2013, this situation is playing out during a relatively wet spring in Southern Oregon. According to data from the National Resource Conservation Service, the snowpack for the Klamath Basin is 86 percent above average, as of Thursday. The Wood River is fed by a mix of snowmelt and underground springs, according to Gentry.
Still, Gentry said Oregon’s watershed remains depleted from drought conditions in the past.
“Folks would think that, because it’s been a wet year, there’s more water to go around … and that’s not necessarily the case,” Gentry said.
Gorman added that timing plays a factor, as well. Because the spring was colder than usual, he said, the snowpack may have stayed frozen until later in the spring.
Crater Lake’s long-term plan is to build a well near the park entrance to satisfy its water needs on a more permanent basis, McCabe said. But with large portions of the park still covered with snow, construction likely won’t be complete until the end of summer at the earliest, after the majority of yearly visitors have come and gone.
Crater Lake National Park attracted 756,000 visitors during 2016, and 367,000 of those came in July and August alone, according to the National Park Service website. McCabe said the park uses around 36,000 gallons of water during a typical May day, but in the heart of the summer, that number nearly doubles.
The park is building a temporary well system with above-ground pipes, but even that won’t be complete until the end of June, according to McCabe. In the meantime, Crater Lake is working with Action Sanitary, a company based in Lower Lake, California, to have water delivered by truck. The company is providing two trucks daily, each holding around 6,000 gallons of water. McCabe said the federal government provided $400,000 in relief funds for the months of May and June to fund the project.
In the meantime, Crater Lake is making sure visitors understand the situation. An alert on the posted on Crater Lake’s website asks visitors to restrict their water usage however possible, to reduce the possibility of closing the park.
“Everyone’s doing their part,” McCabe said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, email@example.com
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misidentified the source of the water trucked to Crater Lake. The Bulletin regrets the error.