Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
FOLLOWED BY:Long Lake no answer to Basin water puzzle by Steve Pedery, ONRC
I’m not sure I would start with even a tacit agreement with the Oregon Natural Resources Council’s June 11 commentary about Long Lake.
Most, if not all, of Steve Pedery’s “facts” are erroneous: The 45,000 acre feet of water storage is the combined total of both Barnes and Wood River Ranch.
If it were true, then the depth of Barnes would be in the neighborhood of 16 feet. The total acreage of Wood River Ranch and Barnes is approximately 9,500 acres.
The net gain from Barnes is only about 12,000-15,000 acre-feet, which puts the $9.1 million cost at about $600 to $760 per acre foot. Additionally, this storage creates nothing for late summer flows. It keeps nothing in reserve, when most of the watershed has its greatest need.
As the lake level drops, so will the Barnes storage. The Bureau of Reclamation has been conducting geological examinations of Long Lake, including core sampling, during the past two years.
While not final, the preliminary opinion of Long Lake as a reservoir has been favorable. Indeed, Long Lake currently holds water in the northern half, which in itself is remarkable, given that its watershed area extends no further than the immediate ridges surrounding the lake.
Ignores value of cold water
The ONRC commentary fails to mention that Long Lake, with no additional impoundment structure, will hold approximately 350,000 acre-feet of water at a 200-foot depth. At that depth, the water is cold.
By contrast, Barnes only offers more shallow, warm water evaporation. Interestingly, the surface area of Barnes and Long Lake is about the same. However, given the tremendous additional storage offered by Long Lake, the percentage of evaporative loss is significantly less and can be demonstrated at home. Take a drinking glass and fill it with water. Pour the same amount into a pie pan and set them both out in the sun and watch which evaporates sooner.
I would have more respect for the ONRC’s comments regarding Barnes Lake if the organization would describe it as habitat, not storage. That, coupled with the removal of livestock from one of the best grazing areas on the West Coast, is driving their advocacy. Storage is a smoke screen.
The ONRC’s cost estimate is far from reality and is based on costs developed in 1987, which called for a series of dams and tunnels associated with the interconnection of Aspen, Round and Long lakes.
Long Lake was never studied in isolation as a reservoir. Of the three, it showed the lowest permeability and, thus, the highest ability to hold water.
The Bureau of Reclamation has indicated it is going to revisit its cost estimates, which are most likely to be far less than the $500 million the Bureau originally stated three or four years ago.
The only point of agreement in the ONRC article is the costs associated with pumping. Even here, the ONRC overstates its case and would have us believe that every drop pumped would have to go 400 feet up over a ridge.
Actually, the elevation at the Geary Canal is 4,132 above sea level, and the ridge is at 4,438 feet, a difference of 306 feet. However, by boring a tunnel through the ridge, the head to be pumped will be between 100 feet (the height of the floor of Long Lake valley above Geary Canal) and 300 feet (estimated high water mark above the Canal and 200 feet above the valley floor).
In addition, the ONRC makes no mention of the electrical generation that could be achieved when the water is returned to the canal, thus partially offsetting the cost of pumping.
The purpose of Long Lake is to provide the necessary “stretch” in the water availability to Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River flows. At present, the only way to provide balance to the system is to curtail water to the Klamath Project, the Klamath River, or both, if the biological opinion for the short nose sucker has precedence.
The ONRC seems to have no problem with the farmer or rancher shutting down some or all of their operations to augment flows through the water bank, but has difficulty expecting the taxpayer to fund a storage project which will meet the needs of the biological opinions mandated by those same taxpayers’ representatives in Congress, Salem and Sacramento.
Long Lake no answer to Basin water puzzle
It isn’t often that the Oregon Natural Resources Council finds itself in agreement with the Herald and News editorial page. However, your May 21 editorial on water storage correctly noted that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s water bank program is extremely expensive to taxpayers, and at best represents a stopgap fix for the Klamath Basin’s ongoing water woes.
Unfortunately, the editorial’s call for more money to be spent on the Long Lake Project missed the mark. The Long Lake scheme seeks to build a reservoir in an area that was the center of an earthquake in 1993, and currently does not hold water. The Long Lake Project would also require pumping water some 400 feet uphill from Upper Klamath Lake and over a steep ridge.
Realists have long known that the Long Lake is pie in the sky at best, and, at worst, a giant waste of tax dollars. Who would pay for the huge annual pumping costs of this project? Why should American taxpayers spend the half to three-quarter billion-dollar estimated price tag to build it in the first place?
Barnes Ranch better deal
For $9.1 million, it is estimated that the purchase of Barnes Ranch will increase natural wetland storage in Upper Klamath Lake by 45,000 acre-feet, or roughly $200 per acre-foot. In contrast, optimistic estimates indicate Long Lake storage would cost roughly $1,300 per acre-foot, excluding the sizable annual costs of pumping massive volumes of water uphill.
A better, cheaper, and more practical alternative is to invest in regaining some of the former natural water storage of the Klamath Basin. A good place to start would be the some 10,000 acres of drained lakebed and former wetland portions of Upper Klamath and Agency lakes — in addition to the 2,785-acre Barnes Ranch — that have been diked off and drained over the years.
The loss of these areas has reduced the overall water storage capacity in the watershed. By working with landowners to either purchase some of these lands at fair market value, or enroll them in long-term easements, we can restore natural water storage, expand wetlands and wildlife habitat, and improve water quality in a way that is both fair to tax payers and to farmers.
Another logical place to look for water storage in the Klamath Basin is Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. By ending the practice of leasing lands on the refuge for commercial agriculture that is of little or no benefit to wildlife, managers could once again manage the refuge as a lake and wetlands.
Doing so could allow up to 100,000 acre-feet of winter water to be retained there, providing water for refuge needs in dry months and taking pressure off of irrigation supplies. Besides costing a tiny fraction of the Long Lake proposal, ending the lease land program could also boost rental income to private landowners in the basin, by removing the unfair competition from the federal government.
If the Klamath Basin’s water woes are ever to be solved, it will require us all to get serious and make some hard choices. Unfortunately, Long Lake leads us away from the path of realistic, cost effective programs. The last thing the Klamath Basin needs is another expensive, ill-conceived water project that doesn’t work as advertised.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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