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District weighs dam removal

Removing the Chiloquin dam would open up about 70 miles of spawning habitat for endangered suckers. Talks leading to possibly removing the dam, built in 1914, are continuing.

March 2, 2006 By STEVE KADEL H&N

CHILOQUIN - State officials have lobbed the issue of removing the Chiloquin dam back to the Modoc Point Irrigation District.

One of the questions in the long-discussed removal involves where the district would take water for irrigation if the dam was gone.

The district currently diverts from the Sprague River. Without a dam, irrigation water would be sought from the Williamson River, of which the Sprague is a tributary.

The dam, built in 1914, is on the Sprague about a mile upstream of its confluence with the Williamson.

The Oregon Department of Water Resources recently addressed that point with an administrative rule change, said Kimberly Grigsby, water resources policy analyst for the department.

“Modoc can now file a request to change their diversion point,” Grigsby said, adding that the district had not filed as of Monday.

Negotiations over dam removal stretch back for years. The goal is to improve spawning conditions for two endangered species of fish - the sucker and red-band trout - as well as for other native fish.

A stakeholder group consisting of Modoc Point Irrigation District, the Klamath Water Users Association and the Klamath Tribes recommended removal in 2003. The tribes gave their support only on the condition that removing the small dam would help spawning habitat.

A fisheries biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Klamath Falls said fish would benefit if the 21-foot-high, 220-foot-long concrete dam was removed.

“It's been identified as an important action,” Mark Buettner said. “It's moving ahead, and there's been pretty good collaboration.”

He said some fish manage to get through the dam, but removing the structure would increase their ability to make passage.

Redband trout and suckers migrate from Upper Klamath Lake to upstream areas for spawning.

Besides getting approval for a water diversion location, Modoc Point Irrigation District officials have other hurdles to negotiate before they will sign off on dam removal.

Currently, water is provided by an irrigation ditch flowing from the dam.

District secretary Berniece Etchevers said a pumping station must be constructed to get water to farmers. After that is built, she said, it must be tested for three months during irrigation season to make sure pressure is sufficient.

Etchevers added that the district should not have to pay for the pumps, or for their maintenance and operation. That presents another point for negotiations with federal officials.




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