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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
 

Tour of The Nature Conservancy
and Government land acquisitions

Barnes Ranch purchase questioned
July 16, 2003  photos by KBC

Approximately 100 people--Yurok, Klamath Tribes, Klamath Irrigators, NOA fisheries, TNC, USFWS, BOR, BLM, TNC, Water Watch, Klamath City Council, fishing guides, Congressional field reps, etc, filled 2 greyhound busses on a tour organized by USFWS Klamath Basin Ecosystem Restoration (ERO) Office. All seemed to have the common goal of seeing these wetlands of agricultural land acquisitions,  the Barnes Ranch  possible purchase, and asking questions. Hatfield Working Group co-chairs Mark Stern from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Marshall Staunton, Tulelake irrigator, were masters-of-ceremony throughout the day.

Before each of these properties was purchased from private farmers and ranchers, the reason used to promote the concept of conservancy and government land acquisition was 'increased water storage and water savings for irrigation'.

North on Hwy 97, our first destination was the Williamson River Delta (Tulana Farms). Purchased with federal funding, 1100 acres of this TNC property hosts non-organic potato, alfalfa, and grain farm operation. The remaining 3700 acres is largely flooded wetlands. According to Leslie Bach, TNC, the current goal is to breach the lake levies and reconnect the wetlands so it will function 'naturally', free-flowing into the lake.

Bach mentioned that the extremely high phosphorus level will be a problem if the levies are breached.  They did breach the river levies in 2 places, making wetlands, and they are evaluating the response. It was questioned by the audience what the evaporation rate is on this land, since  agriculture used 1' water for pasture, while the evaporation rate
on this shallow wetlands is over 3 acre feet of water. It was suggested to TNC that they get some factual figures on their water use.

We approached the 'upland area, viewing 500 acres of The Nature Conservancy farmland on Tulana Farms..

Q: "What are the impacts of fertilizers and pesticides to the land and wildlife on your non-organic farms (of barley, potatoes and alfalfa?" KBC
A: "There are no impacts." Mark Stern, TNC
Q: "What are you going to do with that parcel of weeds?" asked by concerned tour guest about one noxious weed plot.
A:  They will be planting that with barley for weed control and feed for birds: "Grain would have immediate benefits to birds," Mark Stern.

        
The buses proceeded to River Bend, where 4000 acres of levies were breached. Many large endangered sucker fish come here.  On the bus Mark Wettner said there has been no assessment of sucker survival in River Bend vs those going into the lake, however larval fish are not surviving. The water at Riverbend is warmer than Agency Lake, but Wettner said the suckers are surviving up to 85F. When questioned about lack of recruitment, the answer was the water quality's high PH.

Go HERE for reasons why sucker fish are endangered.
 

On to the 3,200-acre Wood River Wetland, previously known as the Wood River Ranch, acquired by American Lands Conservancy and purchased by BLM for $2.4 million in 1994, again, for 'water storage.' This Ranch was north of Agency Lake.  The current objectives are:
*  "Restore the Wood River Ranch property to its previous function as a wetland community.
*  Provide long-term improvement in water quality and quantity entering Agency Lake.
*  Emphasize improving and increasing wetland and riparian habitats for federally listed fish and other wildlife species."
Not included in this list is water storage.

Agency Lake

The current BLM management of the Wood River Wetlands: "Under this strategy the existing water volume would be maintained.  No pumping of water from the wetland would occur and irrigation water would be added (neighbor's excess runoff) throughout the grouing season (May-OCT). Water Use: 5000acre ft. (winter accumulation) + 1000AF (irrigation) = 6000AF total.  Water Quality: No pumping of nutrient rich water from WRW into Agency Lake. Water Quantity: 8000AF of irrigation water is unused and therefore available to downstream water users."

BLM's Wedge Watkins tried to explain to the group how more water is available for irrigators since they do not divert water for irrigation...they just keep standing water in their wetlands.....!? Dr. Doug Whitsett, local resident,  asked,  with all of that flooded previous-ranchland, why they are not figuring in the 3 AF/year of water that evaporates off of this expanse of water, totalling 9000 AF/yr. The charts try to convince the reader that since the previous ranch is now a wetland, standing water used less water than sporadic irrigating and cattle water.

Watkins told how they just drilled 6 wells @ $60,000, and eventually they will monitor them.

Brian Carpenter spoke, representing Klamath County fishing guides and Flycasters. He emphasized the decrease in redband trout using this section of the River, which concerns the fishing economy in the basin.  "Trout need deep cold water." In a control spot, there were 91 migratory rainbow 4 years ago.  3 years ago there were 3. That is a big decline...you should study the effects BEFORE you change the land. "Our summer fishing season is gone. Carpenter represents 9 fishing guides whose fish counts dropped markedly.

Another guide, previous owner of Rocky Point resort, has been guiding for over 30 years.  He is very concerned about the water quality.  Since this land acquisition, there are weeds were no weeds used to be. Where water is allowed to stagnate, he watched the water go from 68F to 84F in one day. The sucker management is stressing the trout..they are stressed and dying. They are coming from the lake to the bay because they are not letting water out, and they are stressed and not feeding. His concern, "if we dump warm water into the lake, what is going to happen? This is effecting people who bought property here for the fishing."

Ed Bartell, landowner, told how is was only recently that flow meters were installed. "These's been a dramatic decrease in flow. Where is the water going to come from?" He explained how, with 100,000 acres taken out of ag land, that is over 100,000 AF water being lost to the lake. You need to monitor the water...there is no available data. Ag is not depleting the flow.

Next stop was Agency Lake Ranch, 7125 acres, which can store 15,000 AF. in 99 and 2001 the land was idle..in dry years there is no water to store.  BOR Cecil Leslie told how the nutrient loading is very high when land is converted to wetlands.

 

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Rich McIntyre, American Land Conservancy, encouraged the purchase of Barnes Ranch for "water storage". This 2800 acre ranch would cost $9.1 million. "We don't know how much water can be stored on this ranch." This is shallow water storage, and McIntyre agrees that "Deep water storage is by far the ultimate way to store water in the Klamath Basin."           

Asked how they would control the warm water, and what the temperature of this hot water sump would be, McIntyre states, "I think that's one of the questions that needs to be looked at..."

Ed Bartell asks, "What does this do to the vegetation?  Vegetation dies, it will effect the phosphate level, can we use the storage?"

McIntyre, "We agree."

Dave Hillemeyer, Yurok tribe attorney, "We still have stream flows, so it's not a silver bullet in dry years."

Question for BOR: "Will the properties be flooded above the ranch?"

BOR Christine Karas, "I can't answer that question"

Also Paul Little, the Meadows Irrigation director stated that when the BOR fills the Agency Ranch for water storage, it flows onto his private ranch BEFORE it flows onto the Barnes property... his ranch would have to be filled with water
prior to the Barnes Ranch being used for water storage.  This means that the Barnes Ranch may not be useful without the purchase of another (his) ranch. "I have stood on the levee when water has run over from Barnes property." 

Karas stated that "something could be engineered to protect those properties."

The group did not seemed convinced that this "water storage" proposition, like all the the previous promises of 'more water for ag', would be indeed a good idea. Stressed fish, fatally warm water and phosphorus levels for fish, possibly unusable storage, and more wetlands to suck up the water available for agriculture and downstream uses.

Back at Wood River Wetlands stop, Chrysten Lambert from Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, expressed that there is very limited data on water supposedly saved by not irrigating.

Fran Maiss, from Upper Klamath Lake National Wildlife Refuge, USFWS, said, "We are supposed to have a management plan by 2007." (somehow this rubbed the Klamath Basin irrigators the wrong way, when the USFWS took more water earlier this year than supposedly allowed for refuges, we are TOLD we must pump our wells with no compensation because the BOR messed up on water year type and 'accidentally' put more water into the river than demanded, and we are sometimes forced to send our groundwater into the refuge when their mismanagement causes water shortages.....this statement just didn't sit well. KBC).

Bartell asked how water quality is being measured, and Maiss responded that there is "no data on water quality on this marsh."

Reed Marbut, adjudication OWRC, asked about the 4 refuges that have filed for water rights in the adjudication process.

Elwood Miller, cultural advisor of the Klamath Tribes,  expressed concern that there are no coots on this marsh..what happened to all the coots?

Dave Mauser, Tulelake refuge USFWS, responded that the Tulelake refuge is where the coots are now, "With grains it (the Tulelake Refuge) is better for birds."

There was a recap of the day by Marshall Staunton and TNC Mark Stern, explaining the schedule of a BarBQ, and tomorrow's agenda: ecosystem restoration, global discussions, sustainability, downstream tribal wants, leaselands, and environmentalists vision for downsizing the Klamath Project.

One ending concern was expressed by Ed Bartell, irrigator. "You talk of breaching up to 40,000 acres, with water  spread over much larger areas.  That could shut down the entire Klamath Project and still you could not meet required lake levels or down stream flows."

KBC would like to extend our thanks to the ERO office, TNC and the Hatfield Working Group for making this tour possible. We were allowed into the locked areas. The vastness of this converted ag land is unfathomable: there was water or wetlands  as far as you could see.

For acreage of converted agricultural land acquisitions, go HERE

 

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