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Channel could save Clear Lake suckers

April 12, 2005



An underwater channel dug more than 70 years ago to aid irrigation from Clear Lake could save suckers stuck in shallow waters this summer.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are trying to figure out how to get endangered suckers living in Clear Lake through a summer with low water.

"This year we have drought conditions," said Curt Mullis, manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Klamath Falls office.

An old channel connects two lobes of the lake. In this year's drought conditions, suckers could become trapped in the more shallow east lobe of the lake.

What the federal officials have in mind is pulling about 4,000 acre-feet out of the lake, creating a current which biologists believe will prompt suckers to move into the deeper west lobe.


Federal streamflow forecasts issued last week call for 17,600 acre-feet of water, or 37 percent of average, to flow into the lake from April to September. Even without irrigation, the lake is still expected to dip below levels required for the safety of the Lost River and shortnose suckers, Mullis said.

About 45 miles southeast of Klamath Falls, Clear Lake normally supplies all the Langell Valley Irrigation district and some of the Horsefly Irrigation District. Langell Valley has more than 100 customers with 16,300 acres. Of those, about 6,750 acres rely solely on Clear Lake for water.

Last week, the Bureau said no water would be available this irrigation season from Clear Lake. But the plan to drain about 4,000 acre-feet of water from the reservoir to help the suckers could also benefit farmers.

That's where the old underwater canal comes in.


Clear Lake is shaped like an hour glass, Mullis said. Federal scientists call each rounded bulb of the hour glass a "lobe."

The reservoir's dam is on the east lobe, while there is deeper water in the west lobe. Between is an underwater ridge with the old channel dug through it.

First dug in 1931, when waters in the lake were low, the 3,000-foot-long channel was cleared of silt in 1961 and 1992.

In the Bureau's 43 years of recordkeeping, 1992 was one of the driest and also caused concern about suckers in Clear Lake. The suckers have been listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act since 1988.

In 1992, the Bureau used excavators to dig out the channel and free up movement of water from the west to east lobe.


Suckers were gathering in the warm, shallow water by the dam where water quality was down, he said. After clearing out the channel, water was released from the dam creating a draw for the suckers to swim through the channel and to the deeper, better quality water.

Now officials are considering whether to do a draw again, starting around May 1.

In 1992, several thousands of suckers were saved, Mullis said, and similar results could be expected this year.

But officials are still trying to fine-tune the process. Rae Olsen, Bureau spokeswoman, said officials are trying to determine how to save more suckers this time around. "They want to improve on the process from last time," Olsen said.


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