Klamath Water Users Association 

Weekly Update

August 15, 2003



Water Users Support Study of Long Lake Offstream Storage Project

The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) Board of Directors last night endorsed the Klamath County Commission’s proposal to further study a proposed offstream storage project at Long Lake. The KWUA Board unanimously supported sending a letter of support to the County Commission, urging that Long Lake and other potentially viable storage projects be screened for feasibility. The Klamath Basin Water Supply Enhancement Act of 2000 provides the authority to conduct such a feasibility study, but funding for the program in recent years has been diverted to address unexpected crises that are becoming the norm in the Klamath watershed.

Long Lake is an enclosed narrow valley located just southwest of Upper Klamath Lake. Reclamation completed a preliminary study of this proposal in the late 1980’s, but the findings were inconclusive and suggested that additional study would be required to determine the project’s feasibility. This project appears to have potential to help meet the water demands of the Klamath River watershed.

"Ultimately, the legitimate water demands of the Klamath Basin can best be satisfied through the development of new water storage facilities," said KWUA Board member Bill Kennedy. "The federal government should move with all possible haste to undertake feasibility studies for Long Lake and other viable storage projects using the authority already provided by Congress."

Preliminary estimates suggest that 350,000 acre-feet of water could be stored in Long Lake without substantially modifying the proposed reservoir site.


OSU’s Rykbost Reviews Historical Hydrology of Klamath River Watershed

Dr. Ken Rykbost, superintendent of Oregon State University’s Klamath Experimental Station, has completed a review of key aspects of Klamath River historical hydrology. Rykbost, who recently presented his findings to U.S. Congressmen John Doolittle and Wally Herger, has assessed historic hydrologic data that both confirms old understanding and also presents new ideas:

  • The Upper Basin above Iron Gate Dam, including Klamath Project diversions, accounts for a consistent 15 % of annual flow at the mouth of Klamath River.
  • Klamath Project agricultural water use has not changed significantly in the past half century.
  • High summer flows requested for environmental use are only potentially available because of Klamath Project storage.
  • All tributaries in the Klamath system produce hydrographs with widely varying winter and spring flows but consistently low summer flows.
  • Trinity diversions to the Central Valley Project represent about 20 % of river yield and appear to mainly affect the spring hydrograph for the Trinity and the mouth of the Klamath River.

Notably, watershed yield above Upper Klamath Lake appears to have declined in recent decades: in the Williamson River watershed, which accounts for about 46 % of inflow to UKL, the yield per inch of Klamath Falls precipitation has declined from: 81,000 acre-feet in 1951-63, to 55,000 acre-feet in 1990-2000.

Agencies Step Up Efforts to Monitor Klamath Salmon, Sucker Conditions

Fisheries agencies up and down the Klamath River are conducting meetings to share information and monitor water quality and fish conditions as the summer heat begins to take its toll on fish throughout Oregon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) hosted a meeting/conference call on August 14 to share information and update participants on current conditions in the Klamath River Basin regarding flows and lake levels, water quality, fish health and population monitoring, and other pertinent information. This was the first of several bi-monthly meetings requested by Steve Thompson, California Nevada Operations Manager (USFWS). Tribes, water users and state and local agency representatives participated in the meeting.

According to fisheries biologists and managers along the lower river, the fall Chinook run has not started and the spring Chinook have apparently moved upstream into the Trinity River and Klamath River near the Salmon River. Flows in the Klamath and Trinity rivers are substantially higher for this time of year than last year. According to government scientists, water quality (temperature and dissolved oxygen, or DO) in the Klamath River below Iron Gate Dam are currently within acceptable levels for anadromous fish due in part to mild air temperatures over the last two weeks in the middle and upper Klamath Basin. The Bureau of Reclamation is completing work on an action plan to release up to 50,000 acre-feet of water from Trinity Reservoir to stimulate migration of Trinity River fall Chinook from the lower Klamath River and potentially avert another die-off of adult migrating salmon. Final approval of the plan is expected in the next week.

A high-pressure system that hovered over the Klamath Basin in the waning days of July sent local temperatures soaring, with four record highs set and one tied for the month. Dead fish showed up in several Klamath Basin water bodies in late July, including UKL, Topsy Reservoir, Keno Reservoir, and the Lost River. Warm water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen, and adverse algal conditions appear to be responsible for most of the fish deaths. The overall trend in DO levels has been upward since August 1st in the northwest portion of UKL; this is consistent with a moderate recovery of the algal bloom and associated photosynthetic activity. No dead fish were observed by water quality crews at Clear Lake, Gerber Reservoir, and Tule Lake.

Water quality conditions have generally improved in the upper basin over the last two weeks and no major die-offs have been reported. In Upper Klamath Lake, USGS observed 6 dead adult Lost River suckers over the last few days in Pelican Bay, but water quality conditions have improved and algae biomass has increased. Weather forecasts for the next week are calling for a continuation of moderate temperatures that have occurred since August 1st. Water quality monitoring and observations for die-offs will continue over the next month or so. A multi-agency fish die-off coordination group organized by Reclamation will continue to meet regularly until the risk of fish die-offs had declined.

The hot weather is affecting fish in other parts of Oregon, as well. High water temperatures killed salmon and steelhead along several portions of the Willamette River, particularly near Oregon City, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) biologists said last week.

Myth Making on the Klamath River

Commentary by Dan Keppen

KWUA Executive Director

Media outlets throughout the country this week - including The Oregonian - have taken a cue from environmental activists and are carrying accounts of alleged high-level government mismanagement and environmental devastation in the Klamath River watershed. The conclusions developed in the Oregonian's recent editorial on Bush Administration policies in the Klamath Basin ("Karl Rove at the headgates", August 8, 2003) reflect a complete acceptance of activist-driven myth-making that has its roots in an unfortunate natural resources crisis that occurred in late 2002 on the Klamath River.


Traditional advocates of high mainstem Klamath River flows quickly concluded last fall that the fish die-off was due in large part to Klamath Project operations, despite the fact that the fish died below the confluence of the Klamath and Trinity rivers, 200 miles downstream of the Klamath Project. Media outlets - including the Oregonian's editorial staff - also jumped to this conclusion, within days of this unfortunate event. A coalition of environmental activists have since exploited the die-off with legislation, litigation, and press attacks aimed at removing Klamath Project farmers and ranchers from their land.

One very natural potential explanation for the fish die-off - completely ignored by environmental activists and tribal interests in their zeal to link the fish deaths with Bush Administration environmental policy - was the temperature of the Klamath River at the time of the die-off. Any Oregon child would understand the adverse impact

high water temperatures can have on salmon, but curiously, many in the media refused to address this natural phenomenon. The topic is also important because of how water project operations can, or cannot, affect water temperatures in riverine areas important to salmon.

2002 Findings

During late summer and early fall of 2002, Dave Vogel, a fisheries biologist with 28 years experience, conducted a field investigation to assess water temperatures in the main stem Klamath River. Vogel measured main stem water temperatures hourly just prior to and during the fall-run Chinook salmon migration season. He found that water temperatures in the upper Klamath River downstream of Iron Gate Dam during September 2002 were unsuitable for adult salmon, a finding that was similar to that of previous studies. Vogel also found that large numbers of salmon entered the lower Klamath River earlier than usual and were exposed to two dramatic and uncharacteristic cooling and warming conditions causing disease outbreak from warm water and crowded conditions. According to Vogel, the combination of these factors was chronically and cumulatively stressful to fish and is probably the most plausible reason for the fish die-off.

These data indicate that September 2002 was unique, but not for the reasons portrayed by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) in a draft report that was released to the media in early 2003.

The Myth Debunked

The recent Oregonian editorial resurrects the conclusions quickly reached by anti-farming interests last year, despite the fact that a judge recently ruled that the cause of the die-off was a "triable issue of fact". In other words, based on the conflicting evidence presented by the parties regarding the cause of the fish die-off, Judge Armstrong could not link this event to Klamath Project operations. 

That hasn’t stopped a coalition of well-funded environmental groups and other anti-farming interests from launching a crusade to eliminate the farming way of life in the Klamath Basin. Justification for many of the attacks we’ve seen in the past year has at it’s core the allegation that Klamath farmers killed those fish.

Arguments made by environmental advocates and tribal biologists are lacking because they do not articulate how increased releases from Iron Gate Dam could have prevented the fish die-off more than 170 river miles downstream of the dam. If the primary cause of the fish die-off was warm water, it was physically impossible for Iron Gate Dam to cool the river down to tolerable levels for salmon.

The simple myth promulgated by environmental activists theorizes that 2002 was unique because there was a large salmon run and low river flows, which explains the fish die-off in September 2002. In fact, contrary to this claim, 1988 had a much larger salmon run than 2002 and the lower Klamath River flows were similar to that observed in 2002. In 1988 the lower Klamath River flow during September was 2,130 cfs, the salmon run was 215,322 fish and there was no consequent fish die-off; in 2002, the lower Klamath River flow during September was 2,129 cfs, the salmon run was 132,600 fish, and 33,000 fish died. These facts provide empirical evidence that this theory is invalid. 

CDFG spokespersons and California Resources Secretary Mary Nichols also concluded within days of the fish die-off that operations of the Klamath Project, located 200 miles upstream of the die-off, were somehow to blame. Unfortunately, CDFG’s draft report – released just two months later - contains several major errors. In it’s most amazing finding, CDFG asserts that toxic substances could not have caused the fish die-off, even though it admits that water samples were not taken until 7 days after the onset of the fish die-off. Therefore, that potential source of mortality is still in question.


The Oregonian's recent editorial - printed just one day after the paper reproduced a similar editorial authored by the New York Times - hypocritically throws out allegations and conclusions that are grounded in politics and propaganda, while in the same breath, endorsing its hope that the Klamath crisis will be resolved using the "best science". While we are not surprised that a distant entity like the Times would employ this approach, we are disappointed that Oregon's largest newspaper would promote a myth-driven position so damaging to many of its own rural readers.


Friday, August 15, 2003End of Comment Period, USBR Conservation Implementation Program. Contact Christine Karas at the Bureau of Reclamation: 541-883-6935.


Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
(541)-883-6100 FAX (541)-883-8893 kwua@cdsnet.net

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