Flooded farmer fishes for implements
Klamath wheat fields lie under 3 to 10 feet of
Capital Press 8/8/06
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. - With his shorts, wet-suit top,
sunglasses and baseball cap, you might mistake the
man at the helm of the pontoon workboat for a
Ron McGill is that, but he's fishing for farm
implements submerged since the Geary dike crumbled,
letting Upper Klamath Lake roll over the nearly
1,700 acres of cropland he leased from the Running Y
Ranch and the Geary Family Trust.
Fishing turned urgent last week, as the U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation drew down Oregon's largest lake to
meet the combination of irrigation and downstream
fishery water demands. Lifting the submerged
implements with improvised floats didn't work as
they struck roads and drainage structures.
Instead, McGill's crew had to drag each piece across
the flooded field, pulled by a line anchored to a
parked bulldozer and hauled by a truck.
"We don't want to be doing this, but we do want the
sympathy" from others aware of the task, McGill said
as he took a break after rigging a 600-foot line.
Recovery progressed at about one piece a day last
When the dike failed June 7, McGill had about 1,200
acres sown to spring wheat. Foreman Mike Gehon said
there were three more fields to plant in the big
tract of reclaimed land called Caledonia Marsh. The
submerged equipment was positioned to work those
McGill said the break came when Upper Klamath Lake
was at maximum elevation.
He said water depths in the flooded area ranged from
3 to 10 feet last week.
And while he waited for lawyers and others to
separate out the liability for his failed crop and
the dike failure, he predicted that the breach may
never be repaired. The pressure is on to increase
water storage capacity for Upper Klamath Lake,
McGill said, and the dike failure gives the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation a ready candidate for
When the dike broke, Reclamation gave a hasty
estimate of 20,000 acre feet of water flowing into
Caledonia Marsh. McGill said knowing the actual
depths of the land, storage could be much greater
than that first estimate.
Meanwhile, Klamath County's emergency services
department is working on a plan to get inspection
and regular maintenance on the estimated 45 miles of
other dikes surrounding the 90,000-acre lake. A
survey by a local newspaper found there has been no
coordinated plan for decades. Old-timers said dike
maintenance was transferred to private landowners in
Depression times, with the exception of the Geary
Ranch, which wanted California Oregon Power Co. to
continue the maintenance fronting its property.
PacifiCorp, successor to COPCO, had maintenance
responsibility when the breach occurred. McGill said
the company always responded when he spotted
deterioration of the dike. A maintenance crew was
working when the earth fill crumbled this June.
For the second month in a row, Reclamation was
unable to meet lake elevations required in a 2002
biological opinion designed to save habitat for
sucker fish under protection of the Endangered
Species Act. The July 31 elevation was 4,140.35 feet
above sea level at midafternoon. The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife target elevation for month's end was
The agency gave Reclamation permission to miss the
June 30 elevation, caused in part by displacement of
water into the 2,000 acres flooded by the dike
breach. In July, Reclamation said inflows dropped
more than expected, creating other challenges to
meeting lake elevations.
- Friday, August 4, 2006
Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.