Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Mr. Richard Smith, Natural Resource Specialist,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
From Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett 5/18/05
Has the sequential purchases of private land around Agency Lake by the United States Department of the Interior been adaptive public policy or an outright misrepresentation of intent?
The purchase of the Wood River Ranch by the Bureau of Land Management was promoted as a multiple use management plan to create at least 12,000 acre feet of water storage for irrigation behind existing dikes, to improve water quality, to restore the mouth of the Wood River, and to establish wetland habitat. No effort has ever been made to store water on the more than 3000 acre ranch. In fact, it has been managed as a public wetland and nature park with some of the worst water quality in the upper basin since its purchase.
The Purchase of the Agency Lake Ranch by the Bureau of Reclamation was promoted as a multiple use management plan to create at least 40,000 acre feet of water storage for irrigation behind existing dikes, to improve water quality, and to establish wetland habitat. To date the BOR has not stored more than 12,000 acre feet of water on the ranch, has done little to promote its value as wetland habitat, and has managed the property in a manner that arguably produces worse water quality.
The original proposal to purchase the Barnes property by the Bureau of Reclamation was promoted as a plan to store about 12,000 acre feet of water for irrigation behind existing dikes, and more importantly, to enhance the storage potential of the Agency Ranch by about 30,000 acre feet. An additional benefit was in acquiring 7,900 acre feet of water rights appurtenant to the Barnes property for additional down stream irrigation use.
We believe that a few potential misrepresentations may have occurred during, and subsequent to, this land acquisition and its actual management.
Much of the Agency Lake Ranch and Barnes Ranch acreage has a surface elevation several feet below seasonal lake surface level. A part of that difference in surface elevation is due to the dikes or levees that separate the lake and the former fertile agricultural fields. However, a larger part of the surface elevation difference has been caused by subsidence of the soils that has occurred as a result of de-watering the old lake bed, and by the accelerated oxidation of the peat soils caused by exposure to the air and by years of tilling. Over a period of years, as the water content of the soils have diminished, and the organic components of the peat soils are digested, the soils compact and sink down or subside in elevation. A 1997 United States Geological Survey (USGS) scientific study by Snyder and Morace determined that the agricultural management practices and periodic pumping of water from the farmed areas resulted in a significant increase in phosphorous loading to the waters of Upper Klamath Lake. We question why re-hydrating the peat soils would not be expected to cause rebound of their surface elevation that would reverse the subsidence over time significantly reducing the potential storage capacity of the proposed complex? Further, we question why the storage management process of repeated flooding, pumping or draining would not recreate the phosphorous loading of Upper Klamath Lake that the original purchase of the property was alleged to prevent?
During recent summer months, water temperatures were measured exceeding 80 degrees F. in shallow water behind breached dikes on former agricultural lands adjacent to the lake. If this stored water is used later in the season, the temperature of the stored water may be expected to create a major problem for water quality in Upper Klamath Lake. In fact, its use may violate the water quality standards established in the Upper Klamath Lake Total Maximum Daily Load (UKL TMDL) as well as adversely affecting endangered sucker species in the lake and threatened Coho salmon in the lower Klamath River.
Wind induced wave action on the shallow water covering the former agricultural land creates continual significant re-suspension of sediments as well as the suspension of unconsolidated surface peat soils into the water column. The UKL TMDL identifies suspended sediments as a major water pollutant. Pumping this sediment-laden water into Upper Klamath Lake at any time may violate the water quality standards established in the UKL TMDL
Perhaps because of these water quality realities the management plans have been significantly changed. By breaching the dikes the ranch lands are returned to the lake elevation eliminating this liability for water quality violation of the TMDL, but not significantly reducing the water quality degradation. Other consequences of this changed management scheme are significant reductions of total potential storage capacity, elimination of any ability to utilize the water early in the season by pumping it from behind the dikes into the lake, and elimination of any means of controlling water temperature or suspended nutrient degradation, and elimination of any means of minimizing water loss to evapo-transpiration and evaporation.
In the Upper Klamath Lake area annual evaporation from the surface of open water averages about three and one half feet. The preponderance of that three and one half acre feet per acre of open water evaporation occurs during the heat of the late spring and summer months. The proposed storage project appears to be beneficial only in the event that the proposed 45,000 acre feet of stored water can be pumped or drained off the lands and utilized prior to the onset of hot weather. However, in the event that the water must be stored until later in the season to be beneficially used for agriculture or enhance instream flow for the Klamath River, the potential evapo-transpiration and evaporation loss from up to 10,000 acres of flooded former agricultural land appears significant and counter productive to the proposed action. The breached dike scheme will insure this water loss of up to 45,000 acre feet on an annual basis
Incredibly, only after the purchase of the Agency Lake Ranch was it determined that most of that potential storage could not be utilized without flooding the Barnes property. Instead of either explaining, or attempting to mitigate, this error in judgment the involved agencies simply determined the Barnes property as a key to the USBR’s ability to fully utilize the storage capability of the Agency Lake Ranch. Perhaps as a direct result of this determination, the price "negotiated" for this sale of the Barnes property appears to be several times higher than the price paid per acre for the comparable purchases of the Agency Lake Ranch and the Wood River Ranch.
Further, testimony states that the Barnes Ranch property cannot be flooded to its full capacity without either flooding adjacent ranches or significantly enhancing several miles of existing levees. This testimony has neither been addressed nor refuted. The Bureau of Reclamation has made it clear that it has no funds to rebuild these levees. Is it the intent of the Department of Interior to flood and then purchase the adjoining ranch lands?
The most recent change in plans if for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire the Barnes property for purposes of water storage and wildlife habitat. This plan would return the Barnes Ranch, and obviously by extension, the Agency Lake Ranch to near historical lake hydrology. Not coincidentally we believe, that outcome has been the desire of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Klamath Tribes for several decades.
Is it possible that the various Department of Interior agencies have sequentially acquired these lands over the past decade for that precise purpose?
Is it possible that the people of the Klamath Basin have been systematically and purposefully deceived to believe that the Department of Interior was working in their best interest?
A retrospective evaluation of Department of Interior actions over the past decade leads us to one of two conclusions. Either the agency has demonstrated astonishing incompetence or the agency, through the sequential actions of its several bureaus has intentionally misstated its intentions.
Senator Doug Whitsett
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