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Long Lake a long way off, if at all


published Dec.12, 2003

Sticker shock: Half a billion dollars or more


People interested in using Long Lake Valley to increase water storage in the Klamath Basin have been stunned by the potential cost of the project: More than half a billion dollars.

"That's a huge price tag and I just can't believe it, but I might be wrong," said Bob Gasser, owner of a Basin fertilizer business and one of the proponents of investigating Long Lake.

The number comes from early estimates of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which says the project would take a long time to complete.

"It's a huge project, and it's not going to happen in 10 years," said Dave Sabo, Klamath Reclamation Project manager.

Earlier this year, the Klamath County Board of Commissioners gave its support for a study and has been soliciting the support of groups throughout the Basin.

The Klamath Tribes, Klamath Water Users Association, Tulelake Growers Association and more than 20 other groups - including five counties in Southern Oregon and Northern California - have drafted letters supporting a study.

Long Lake is in a small valley northwest of Klamath Falls and has been the subject of periodic interest from people interested in expanding water storage.

Sabo said turning the lake into a reservoir would require several years to do extensive studies, including ones about the impact on endangered species, and then about half a billion dollars to cover the construction costs.

"I'm not ever going to say anything negative about a storage project," he said.

But he will be realistic.

He said that the project would require expanding the Geary canal, which runs along the Wocus Marsh, to twice as big as the A Canal. The canal would take water from Upper Klamath Lake, and it would then be pumped over a 400-foot ridge into Long Lake.

The valley is a natural bowl, so a dam wouldn't be needed, Sabo said. But the ridge may need to be raised, he said, the valley floor may need to be reinforced and tunnels would need to be blasted through the southern mountain ridge to make an exit for water to the Klamath River.

Proponents say the reservoir could hold 350,000 to 500,000 acre-feet, depending on whether the ridge between it and the Wocus Marsh was heightened. They say the water would be 200 to 250 feet deep.

Sabo said the Bureau hasn't examined the hydrology, so it's too early too tell how much water the valley could hold. The key is whether there would be enough water from Upper Klamath Lake in late winter and early spring to pump into the valley, he said.

If constructed, Sabo said, the reservoir would take about five years to fill, if the water years were good.

Sabo said a full-blown study of Long Lake would take three to four years and cost $8 million to $10 million. Early cost estimates by the Bureau show the cost of creating the reservoir would be $500 million to $700 million.

Although the potential cost doesn't rule the project out, it does make it a hard sale to the U.S. Congress, Sabo said.

County Commissioner John Elliott, who has been leading the county's effort to look into the project, said he was shocked by the Bureau's numbers.

He said the county and the other groups want the Bureau to do a basic study of the possible reservoir, seeing if it would "hold water in a good fashion," and see if the cost of building could be less.

Many in the Basin support looking into Long Lake as part of a long-term solution for water shortages.

"We think that storage - long-term, deep-water storage - is a very key part of the water crisis in the Klamath watershed, from the mountains to the mouth," Elliott said.

Elliott and Gasser have been organizing support. Elliott said most groups have been receptive.

The Hatfield Working Group, which is made up of 30 Basin people with interests in water issues, was almost one of those in support.

The group, however, operates on a consensus basis - which means that any one participant can put the kibosh on any action.

At its last meeting about three weeks ago, the issue of drafting a letter in support of a Long Lake study was discussed.

About half the group put thumbs up, half put thumbs sideways - saying they were abstaining - and one put his thumb down.

The man with his thumb down was Rich McIntyre, Oregon director for the American Land Conservancy, a non-profit conservation group that has an option to purchase the Barnes Ranch above Upper Klamath Lake.

The Land Conservancy has been trying to get the federal government to pay it for the right to flood the ranch, which, when combined with the government's Agency Lake Ranch next door, could add 35,000 acre-feet to 50,000 acre-feet of storage. The water stored would be about 4 feet deep.

McIntyre said he doesn't think a study should be done on Long Lake because the Bureau already knows it would cost too much.

"I don't believe that Long Lake will ever be built," he said. "For that amount of money, you could pay every farmer in the Klamath Project $1 million, and they could be on their way. I think it is an exceptionally poor use of the taxpayers' dollars."

He said he put his thumb down because the Hatfield group was considering writing a letter asking for a full-blown study, which he said would just be a waste of money.

The ALC and McIntyre stand to make a commission on the deal, and McIntyre denied that his vote was a result of that commission.

"The reality is there are some better storage projects out there," McIntyre said, citing the Barnes Ranch.

It would cost the government $9.1 million to have the property to flood or otherwise manage for storage, but the Bureau could have to invest several more million to build up the dikes around it.

Gasser said McIntyre doesn't want the Bureau to look at Long Lake because he wouldn't get the commission.

"It's a money thing for him," he said.

Gasser said Long Lake could be part of a long-term solution and still wants the Bureau to investigate it. Gasser said he plans to meet with Sabo next week about the cost estimate.

The Bureau has looked into Long Lake before, as part of a study of pump generation at several lakes in the Basin in 1984, but what little data about the valley it had was shaken apart by the earthquake of 1993 and several tremors since. The epicenter for the 1993 quake was up the ridge from Long Lake and the area has been fractured and shifted by the seismic activity.

Currently, the Bureau is conducting a geologic study of the valley - to see if it will leak or not. Sabo said the Bureau has $50,000 invested into the study so far, and it will need $250,000 more to finish, but if he doesn't know if he will have the money in next year's budget.

The Bureau's stance on Barnes Ranch is that it would cost too much, but that might change when it is compared to the other storage options.

"I think Barnes Ranch is much more possible because it is not so big of a money figure," Sabo said.





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