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Irrigators make their case

H&N photo by Steve Kadel
Bob Gasser makes a point to commercial fishermen about the Klamath Irrigation Project with Upper Klamath Lake in the background.

July 6, 2006 by Steve Kadel, Herald and News

Eight commercial fishermen from the Oregon coast are in Klamath Falls for a crash course in Irrigation 101.

They're learning about misconceptions members of the agriculture industry say are perpetuated about the Klamath Project and its relationship to declining coho salmon populations.

Greg Addington, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, used a bluff overlooking Upper Klamath Lake as one of the classrooms.

“This is not a deep pool of cool, clean water,” he said Wednesday, gesturing toward the lake.

Instead, the shallow lake is warm - water sampled Wednesday was 72 degrees - and it has naturally occurring phosphorous from the eruption of Mount Mazama.

Project irrigators say environmentalists and other critics point to the Basin as much of the cause for poor salmon runs.

The truth, according to Addington and other Project members, is water used for irrigation returns to the Klamath River cleaner and cooler than when it left the lake.

Phosphorous, for example, is reduced the farther water travels through Project canals because plants absorb it.

It was one of several issues discussed during the visit by fishermen Wednesday and today. The cost of the trip is paid for by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, whose director Katie Coba believes dialogue between the two industries is important.

Bob Gasser, a Project board member, said water reaching Lower Klamath and Tule lakes did not return to the Klamath River before the Project existed. Pumps now send the water uphill from Tulelake to the river.

“There's more water in the river because of the Project,” Gasser said.

He emphasized the Project is more efficient using water than other irrigation systems nationwide.

“In the last few years (potato) irrigation is done at night so you have less evaporation,” Merrill farmer Dick Carleton added.

He and Newport fisherman Bob Kemp were responsible for organizing the trip. They also leveraged money for travel expenses from the state Department of Agriculture after reading in a newspaper Coba had suggested the two sides - often at odds in the past - begin communicating face to face.

Fishermen and irrigators are at the mercy of lake levels and river flow levels mandated by federal agencies' biological opinions.

“We're like you guys,” Gasser said. “We're frustrated by management decisions made years in advance.”

He presented a chart showing the amount of water the Project contributes to the Klamath River's total. It is a tiny fraction compared to water behind Iron Gate Dam and from tributary creeks and rivers, he said.

Tulelake farmer Rob Crawford added, “There's a tremendous amount of time wasted focusing on the Klamath Project. It's quite obvious we aren't the problem. It's a combination of things.”

Fishermen said the first day of their tour was beneficial.

“I'm trying to find places where we can support (irrigators) and it benefits us, too,” said Rick Gouche, a fisherman from Coquille.




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