Tulelake farmer Rob Crawford explains
how charges for operation and
maintenance are billed to irrigators
within the Klamath project.
Water users describe efficiency of complex
By STEVE KADEL Capital Press
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – The Klamath Reclamation
Project is a complex system of canals that
routes water from Upper Klamath Lake on the
west and Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir on
the east through cropland and wildlife
refuges, eventually returning most of it to
the Klamath River.
It was one of the first federal reclamation
projects created under the Reclamation Act of
1902. As a result, several marshes and lakes
were turned into land that could be farmed,
while other areas became waterfowl refuges.
The “project,” as it is known locally, also is
Environmentalists contend it takes water that
the Klamath River needs for salmon. That
assertion was voiced last week by Oregon
Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman
Jim McCarthy after Oregon and California
public utility commissions voted to raise
project irrigators’ electrical rates to a
level paid by other irrigators.
“The return of a level playing field for
irrigation in the basin will encourage more
efficient water use, and that will have a
positive effect on flows in the river and help
salmon,” he said. “The subsidized rates
basically encouraged waste and allowed
irrigation on marginal land.”
Project farmers bristle when they hear such
comments. Last week, after the PUC decisions,
the Klamath Water Users Association took news
reporters on a tour of the sprawling U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation project’s plumbing
Bob Gasser, a KWUA director, called the system
highly efficient. It returns 93 percent of the
water it takes from Upper Klamath Lake and
empties it into the Klamath River. It also
adds water from the east side that once flowed
into a closed basin at Tule Lake.
What he calls the “93 percent utilization
rate” compares with an average of 60 percent
for other irrigation systems, Gasser said.
The project kept 25,000 acres of the 188,000
acres of crop and pastureland out of
production from 1996 to 2000 for habitat
restoration, he said.
“We’re trying to do everything we can because
this is our livelihood,” Gasser said.
Greg Addington, the KWUA executive director,
said improving conditions for salmon depends
on an ecosystem approach rather than focusing
attention only on the Klamath Project.
“Focusing on one aspect of a complex river and
ocean ecosystem is irresponsible, negligent
and will do nothing for the overall health and
recovery of salmon,” Addington said.
“All stressors to fish – including dams,
disease, predation, ocean conditions, drought,
historic watershed and habitation
modifications – must be considered.”
Many of today’s project farmers are
descendants of homesteaders invited to take up
reclaimed land. The first public lands became
available in 1917 and continue to be farmed by
Of the 188,000 acres in the project, about
two-thirds are in Oregon and one-third in
California. Water is used seven to nine times
before reaching the Klamath River, farmers
They also said the water is colder when it
goes into the river than it is coming out of
storage in Upper Klamath Lake.