U.S. Water News Online
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The American Land Conservancy offered
a plan recently for buying up land and water rights in the Klamath
Basin that includes a major new site for storing water to balance the
needs of farming against fish and wildlife.
Reducing demand for irrigation water, increasing storage, and
improving overall water quality would assure future water supplies
for farming as well as fish and wildlife, even in drought years, said
Rich McIntyre, the owner of a Klamath Basin fishing lodge working for
A key part of the proposal is buying lands around Swan Lake
outside Klamath Falls to store up to 100,000 acre feet of water,
which amounts to nearly a quarter of the annual needs of the Klamath
Project federal irrigation system. Wells could supply 60 percent in
dry years, McIntyre said.
The proposal comes as farmers, Indian tribes, fish and wildlife
advocates, federal agencies and others are working through a
mediation process seeking long-term solutions to the basin's water
problems and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is working on a legislative
Wyden believes that a lot can be accomplished if all parties in
the basin come together, said Wyden chief of staff Josh Kardon.
``But if agriculture, fishing interests, environmentalists and the
tribes are unable to come to agreement, the chances of delivering the
types of sums that many envision are not good,'' Kardon said.
Due to drought conditions and new demands for threatened and
endangered fish, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation this year had to shut
off most irrigation deliveries to the 220,000 acres of farmland
served by the Klamath Project. The project serves about half the
The action taken under the Endangered Species Act marked the first
time since the project began offering irrigation water in 1907 that
the interests of coastal salmon fishermen and Indian tribes have won
out over those of farmers.
The water was held back to maintain elevated levels in Upper
Klamath Lake for endangered shortnosed suckers and Lost River
suckers, a sacred and traditional food of the Klamath Tribes, and to
boost flows in the Klamath River for threatened coho salmon. The
Yurok Tribe has depended on declining runs of Klamath River salmon,
as have commercial fishermen in Northern California and southern
Don Russell, chairman of the Klamath Water Users Association, said
he was skeptical of using Swan Lake for a reservoir, because it was
so shallow that water was likely to quickly evaporate.
``What I'm always looking at is what can we do that will be a net
gain,'' said Russell. ``Currently there are no species to be
concerned about in Swan Lake. If we create a lake are we going to be
picked on later for (an endangered) species, whatever it may be?''
Wendell Wood of the Oregon Natural Resource Council, a
conservation group, said he was more interested in natural solutions,
such as marsh restoration to clean up water laden with agricultural
residues, rather than more engineering fixes.
American Land Conservancy has options to buy 8,000 acres of the
12,000 acres being used to grow hay and pasture around Swan Lake
outside Klamath Falls. A few miles of canal and pumping would be
required to send the water into the Klamath Project.
Fred Fahner, a Tulelake, Calif., farmer working with the
conservancy on the plan, said projects such as this one are needed to
keep farming alive in the face of changing demands for a limited
supply of water.
The conservancy also proposed flooding leased farmlands once
covered by Tule Lake on the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge to
store 65,000 acre feet of water for the refuges. Farmers leasing
those lands would be able to farm on other private lands bought
through the conservancy.
Due to strong local opposition to increasing federal lands in the
basin, 22,000 acres of farmland that would be bought outright around
Tulelake, Calif., would be held in trust, perhaps by the Tulelake
Irrigation District, for private sale in 10 years.
American Land Conservancy also proposed buying water easements on
20,000 acres on the Klamath Project, which could be used for dry land
farming or irrigated with well water.
The land and water right purchases would reduce demand on the
Klamath Project by about 67,000 acre feet, or about 17 percent. The
extra storage would increase supplies by about 41 percent.
The conservancy also proposed the federal government spend $50
million on restoring riparian zones along rivers in the upper basin
and marshes around Upper Klamath Lake to improve overall water
quality in the basin and increase fish and wildlife habitat.
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