report sparks hope for Klamath Basin Ag
It may be a
unique situation when a dam removal might mean more water
for farmers instead of less, but the Klamath Basin is a
released last summer by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) is
leading more and more Basin farmers and ranchers to believe
that dam removal may have something big to offer those who
rely on irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake.
could free up more water and that has some farmers cheering
the efforts of the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC),
the organization tasked with undamming the Klamath River.
article in the Capital Press featured this paragraph: Tracey
Liskey, owner of Liskey Farms in Klamath Falls and a former
member of the Oregon Board of Agriculture, said he and other
farmers in the Klamath Project are anxious to see dam
removal go forward, so the ESA might loosen its grip on the
behind trying to save the fish, so we can get more water,”
Liskey said. “Hopefully we’ll have more salmon than we know
what to do with.”
By way of
background, the four lower Klamath dams are hydroelectric
dams that aren’t operated to manage irrigation flows or for
flood control. Zero water from the four reservoirs is
diverted to farms or ranches. Therefore, removal of these
dams has never posed a risk to irrigated agriculture in the
The BOR will
continue to manage irrigation water through the Link and
Keno dams upstream. KRRC is not touching any dam that stores
So how does dam
removal and river restoration benefit farmers? It starts
with the fish.
contribute to degradation in water quality, impede fish
habitat, contribute to fish diseases, and generally harm
anadromous fish, including the endangered Coho Salmon.
species are especially threatened, BOR is required to take
certain actions to help protect them — such as flushing
extra water down the river. Lots of it.
quality (characterized by warm summer water temperatures),
poor pH, and low dissolved oxygen, negatively impact fish
health and breeding success. Warm, stagnant reservoir waters
contribute to algae blooms, which further degrade water
quality and harm species.
access to upstream cold-water tributaries which are crucial
to fish lifecycles. Finally, dams prevent natural remedies
for certain fish diseases.
disease C. Shasta severely harms juvenile salmon. Dense
colonies of polychaete worms are found on the bottom of the
Klamath River. These tiny worms serve as the intermediate
host for C. Shasta. Dams block natural flow patterns and
sediment transport which would otherwise scour river bottoms
to combat the polychaete worm and C. Shasta.
summer, and in many recent years, BOR released water from
Upper Klamath Lake into the river as dilution flows to help
combat C. Shasta. A U.S. District Court Order requires BOR
to implement these dilution flows if disease thresholds are
But a recent
BOR report (Summary Report of Independent Peer Reviews for
Bureau of Reclamation “Measures to Reduce Ceratanova shasta
Infection of Klamath River Salmonids: A Guidance Document”)
indicates that dam removal will likely reduce or eliminate
the biological necessity for spring dilution flows by
restoring more natural river flows — which flush spores from
the system, reduce polycheate habitat, and reduce C. Shasta
“hot spots”— and by reducing the algae blooms in the
reservoirs which polychaetes feed on.
dilution flows utilized about 50,000 acre feet of water,
which means that without dilution flows, that much water
could have potentially remained in Upper Klamath Lake during
the heart of the irrigation season.
conditions triggering the court order are addressed by the
benefits of dam removal, this could result in a real and
measurable benefit to farmers. It isn’t a guarantee, and
KRRC is the first one to point out that we have no control
over flow decisions for the Klamath River.
possibility of using this 50,000 acre feet of water for
crops instead of treating fish disease has grabbed the
attention of many in the farm community.
continuing its work to prepare for dam removal and we want
farmers involved. We believe that river restoration will
help communities throughout the Basin and will bolster fish
and farms for generations to come.
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