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Working against forces of nature

By Laura McVicker, Herald and News 7/23/06

H&N photo by Todd E. Swenson Steve Kandra, 53, owns farmland that is irrigated and protected by the Westside Improvement District's dikes. He also has a contract to maintain five miles of dikes for the district. The district services three farms and 1,200 acres and is part of the flood protection plan for the town of Tulelake.

TULELAKE — Steve Kandra says he worries every day of his life about the ability of five miles of dike to withstand flooding along Tule Lake. 

“When the wind blows and the water levels are high, you lose sleep,” he says. 

Kandra is among farmers in the Westside Improvement District who own the Tule Lake dike. The Westside Improvement District is in charge of the maintenance of the dike, but, under an agreement, Kandra is the contractor of all five miles. 

He is one of an undetermined number of private dike owners in Klamath and Siskiyou counties who are responsible for maintaining their dikes. 

Kandra owns 500 acres of farmland adjacent to the dike where he grows alfalfa, wheat and potatoes. Other farmers grow mint and other agricultural products. 

Tough winters 

Sometimes he feels he’s working against forces of nature that threaten to erode the dike — winter months are especially grueling, he says. 

Ice pushes the dike, which Kandra describes as “floating” on lake floor material or “muck.” Wind also pushes it, Kandra adds, and he’s seen the dike move in recent years. 

Muskrats and other rodents are nuisances to his dike because they burrow in it, and he continually must haul dirt and rock to reinforce the sides. 

In addition, Kandra deals with an Endangered Species Act mandating water levels be at a specific height in Tule Lake to protect wildlife. He cannot build the dike at a height that would cause water levels to decrease, he says. But high water levels cause him to worry about flooding. 

“I’m in a Catch 22,” he says. 

The family ownership of the dike goes back to World War II, Kandra says, when his grandfather acquired it. The lineage of ownership went to his parents, and Kandra bought it from his mother in 1989. 

Kandra never sees cracks, but constantly battles erosion — especially after this past winter because of the intensity of storms. 

He says he fears a dike failure because farming is his primary source of income, and he also could lose millions of dollars of farming equipment. He doesn’t build on the land for fear of flooding.

“You can’t be passive about levees or dikes, you’ve got to keep on them all the time,” he says.

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