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Basin projects need to be part of overall plan

HERE for Facts about Barnes Ranch by Gail Hildreth Whitsett in response to following article.

Published February 16, 2005, Herald and News

Things are moving along in a variety of ways to deal with the Klamath Basin's water problems, but it's piecemeal. Until there's an overall plan that includes all of the major interests, there is a danger that upper Klamath Basin water users and the federal agencies they're working with won't get credit or what they've done, and what they're planning to do.

For example, purchase of the Barnes Ranch is in the proposed federal budget. Whether the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can reach agreement with the owners on a purchase price remains to be seen. But if it happens, it will significantly improve water storage and provide some fish habitat in the Klamath Basin above Upper Klamath Lake.

In addition, the Chiloquin Dam appears headed for removal, with the discussion at this point focusing more on details than on whether the dam should be removed. Once done, that would open up habitat to the suckers, which are endangered and come under the special protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Looking back, during the past 15 years or so about 20,000 acres of Klamath Basin farmland has been converted to wetlands, a move that reduced the demand for water.

While these and other things show good faith on the part of Upper Klamath Basin residents and federal agencies, it's been done outside the framework of an overall settlement of Klamath Basin water issues, and that's unsettling.

Until there is a plan that answers all of the major questions, and includes all of the major players, there's no guarantee that the things that have been done already in the Upper Basin "count" as steps towards an ultimate solution. In the past, the goal posts seemed to move.

If the Barnes Ranch is purchased by the Bureau of Reclamation, which is no sure thing, will that do anything to satisfy lower river interests? What will it do to satisfy such groups as the litigation-happy Oregon Natural Resources Council? What will it do to satisfy the various tribes on both the upper and lower river stretches? Will it lessen the hostility of the California Fish and Game Department toward the Klamath Reclamation Project?

The 2,700-acre Barnes Ranch storage would not only provide storage in its own right, but increase the storage available on the Agency Lake Ranch next door. Storage there has been limited because, over a certain level, water would seep into the Barnes Ranch, which is still in agricultural use.

The Bureau of Reclamation is interested in making the Barnes Ranch part of the Bureau's water bank, certainly a good move in that it would lessen the water bank's cost and complexity.

Chiloquin Dam, which is a small irrigation dam on the Sprague River at Chiloquin, was built 90 years ago to divert water to the 5,000-acre Modoc Point Irrigation District. It cut off the spawning area above it to two species of suckers, now classified as endangered.

There are some concerns that the dam's removal might release sedimentation that could hurt sucker spawning. If that can be dealt with suitably, and the endangered suckers increase, that would fill in another piece of the Klamath Basin water puzzle. But the Basin won't even know just how how many pieces are missing until there's a plan. That's why it's so important that the newly formed Klamath River Watershed Coordination Group function well. It's the forum for federal and state agencies, along with irrigators, tribes and others.

Something has to come of it. The Klamath River Basin - top to bottom - needs a plan.

Editorial board

Pat Bushey wrote today's editorial, which represents the view of the Herald and News editorial board.


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