2005--100 Year Anniversary of the Klamath Project 

Preface And Klamath River Basins 

From 50 Years On The Klamath

by John C. Boyle

In the records of trappers, explorers and trail blazers, many references were 

made to the lakes, rivers and mountain streams in the Klamath country. Most of the 

settlers who followed these men were headed for the Sacramento or the Willamette  

Valley or the mining districts in between. Only a few who had no quarrel with the 

Indians remained and took up homesteads or purchased swamp and overflowed land from 

the government.


The country was wide open for stock raising with plenty of free pasture and range lands. 

In some localities, settlers obtained large holdings, and claimed lands best suited for their 

purposes. Streams were diverted for irrigation, dikes were built to protect lands from overflow 

and means sought to get rid of surplus waters. Each settler had his own idea about water, 

often different from that of his neighbor, which lead to misunderstandings, ill feelings, and lawsuits.  


The citizens in the Klamath communities realized that water was the greatest asset of the 

area. When efforts were made to divert it elsewhere, they unanimously maintained the 

position that all the water was needed for the ultimate development of the basin of its origin.  


At the turn of the century when irrigation and power engineers visited the area, they generally 

agreed that if properly conserved and utilized, there was enough water to supply every need 

which might locate in the Klamath Basin . This conclusion still holds true in 1976. 



            As Klamath River is an interstate stream, the question of water rights in Oregon and California and the use of water in each state has been an unsettled matter for many years. Oregon had put to beneficial use water for irrigation long before the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation started its Klamath Irrigation project in 1905. California had used water beneficially for mining, irrigation, and development of power from the days of early settlement in Northern California . The total drainage area, estimated at 15,500 square miles not including the Trinity River basin, supplied sufficient water for both states if put to beneficial use within its basins.

            The Klamath River as it left the irrigated areas above Keno, Oregon , dropped about 4100 feet in almost 250 miles into the Pacific Ocean . Throughout this distance it flowed primarily into a canyon with steep narrow sides, with very little flow through lands, which were or might be irrigated.


            Power sites were numerous between Keno and the Pacific Ocean . The most attractive of these were in the first fifty miles of the river below Keno where the fall in the river is about 2500 feet, with lake regulation and storage reservoirs at the source.


            In-flow streams like Willow Creek, Shasta River, and Scott River, all tributary to Klamath, had areas of agriculture land, which needed supplemental irrigation water, and looked to the Klamath as the principal source of supply.


            The Bureau of Reclamation, the Oregon and California Klamath River Compact Commission, and the California Oregon Power Company (Copco) each divided the Klamath River basin into two parts, the Upper Basin and the Lower Basin .


Upper Klamath River Basin

            The Bureau of Reclamation defined the Upper Klamath Basin as an area drained by the Klamath River and all its tributaries above Copco No.2. This was done for the purpose of including any diversion of water into Butte Valley and Shasta Valley for irrigation in those valleys.

            The Oregon and California Klamath River Compact Commission designated the Upper Klamath River basin as that portion of the basin tributary to the Klamath River above the Oregon-California state line. Portions of this area in California included Butte Valley and Red Rock Valley drainage, which flowed northerly and was used for irrigation in Oregon . Some of the arid lands in California receive irrigation water from tributaries of the Klamath River in Oregon . Each state retains its sovereignty.

            The California Oregon Power Company expected to develop all the power resources of the Upper Klamath River basin to and including Iron Gate , so they determined the boundaries of the Upper Klamath River basin as all the drainage areas above Iron Gate .

 In using the Upper Klamath Lake for storage and creating additional reservoirs in the Upper Basin , it was generally agreed by all interested agencies that the use for irrigation within the Upper Klamath Basin had a priority over the use for power purposes. And it was agreed that all drainage flows within the Upper Klamath Basin would be returned to the Klamath River above Keno. The only diversions permitted to go outside its basin would be the diversions from Four Mile Lake to the Medford Irrigation District and the diversion of Jenny Creek to the Talent irrigation District on Greenspring Mountain .

Lower Klamath River Basin . The Lower Klamath River Basin included the Klamath River and all its tributaries between Iron Gate and its confluence with the Pacific Ocean . This part of the basin included Shasta Valley and Scott Valley as the areas most likely to be developed by irrigation. The balance of the area needed very little water for the lands, which may be irrigated, and, because of its canyon walls and rough terrain, it had been established as a fish and, game district by legislative act of California , December 17, 1924 . This act also prohibited the construction of any dam or other artificial obstruction below the confluence of the Klamath River and the Shasta River .

There are at least ten dam sites along the Klamath River between Iron Gate Dam  and the mouth of the river, none of which were developed. They were chosen by different engineers at different times and made the subject of exhaustive reports.

On a 1910 reconnaissance by Copco, only two of these were mentioned as desirable, No. 1 at Big Bend , four miles upstream from Happy Camp, and No.2 at Ishi Pishi Falls , just above the mouth of the Salmon River .

The No. 1 site could be developed to produce about 30,000 KW under a 100 foot head and about 45,000 KW under a 150 foot head, with a tunnel length of about 3500 feet through the ridge which forms the big bend. The river grade resulted in a fall of about 55 feet around Big Bend . A small dam diverting the river to utilize only the 55-foot drop could develop about 15,000KW.

A low level tunnel was proposed during the gold mining days to unwater this five or six miles of river to placer mining but was never developed because high head diversions from Thompson Creek and Indian Creek were better used for hydraulic mining. 

The flexibility offered in this project fit well into Copco's plans to develop units of production which would serve the need of the surrounding area. The transmission lines of the company were extended down the Klamath River from Yreka to Grey Eagle mine and from Cave Junction in Illinois Valley to Happy Camp having in mind that a power plant at Big Bend , in addition to serving the surrounding area, would feed back to the company’s transmission system any surplus generation.

The site at Ishi Pishi Falls was probably the lowest cost per KW of any of the proposed developments on the Klamath River below Iron Gate .  The foresight of Frank Langford and his associates is commendable.  He initiated water rights in 1908, obtained rights of way and started extensive construction work.  The amount of power he expected to develop was flexible, starting with about 25,000 KW and ultimately developing perhaps 200,000 KW, including waters from the Salmon River . His problem was finding a market for his power.  

           The territory immediately adjacent was sparsely settled so he envisioned transmitting power to Trinidad harbor for the production of aluminum, copper and other electro-metals.

Application No.74 before the Federal Power Commission by the Electro-Metals claimed rights from filings made in 1905.

The development of irrigation in Scott Valley , like Shasta Valley and others, was on a partial basis wherein certain areas were irrigated by gravity or by pumping depending on the justified costs. Copco was interested in the pumping developments as an outlet for sale of power. Therefore activity engaged in studies and estimates for the benefit of those who requested such service.

A review of many studies for irrigating Shasta Valley was made beginning with the James M. Davidson survey in 1892 and ending with the California Department of Water Resources studies in 1963. There were found to be 37 engineering reports (see appendix B) together with comments, most of which related to water for additional irrigation in Shasta Valley from Klamath River as an outside source.

In all these studies, no one indicated that surplus waters of Scott Valley could be used not only to irrigate an additional 30,000 acres in Scott Valley , but could supply enough water to irrigate an additional 40,000 acres in Shasta Valley .

Preliminary studies show that with a dam below the mouth of Shackleford Creek, a pumping plant to pump water to a storage reservoir on Moffatt Creek, and a tunnel to Yreka Creek all of these 70,000 acres could be irrigated and supplemental water supplied to both valleys.

The average seasonal run off of Scott River below Shackleford Creek for a 20-year period was about 460,000 acre feet and the minimum run off of record 172,000 acre feet after diversion for lands now irrigated.

Estimated Scott Valley additional needs                         60,000 acre-feet

            Estimated Shasta Valley additional needs                       80,000 acre-feet

140,000 acre-feet

 Excess average minimum run off above needs of both Valleys -32,000 acre-feet.

UPPER KLAMATH RIVER BASIN .  Keno was the control point in the Upper Klamath Basin where the Klamath River left the agricultural land and regulating lakes and started down the canyon through the Cascade Mountains on its course to the Pacific Ocean . Keno has also been marked as the point of division between irrigation and power, however diversions for irrigation were proposed at points below Keno.

McCormick Site. On February 20, 1906 an agreement was made by the Reclamation Service with Thomas McCormick for purchase of water rights and rights of way for building a cut in the Keno reef for lowering the Klamath River , possibly lowering Lower Klamath Lake and providing a better discharge channel for waters from the proposed Lost River diversion canal. The McCormick site was a strip 400 feet wide, 9000 feet long on the south and west bank of the Klamath River, including power development possibilities in this strip of 68 feet fall.

Deed executed November 14, 1906 .                Consideration $10,000.00

Bureau of Reclamation. During March and April 1906, the Reclamation Service made preliminary surveys of the power possibilities below Keno (McCormick Site) to Beswick , California . In the distance of about 28 miles it recorded an average drop of 51 feet per mile and in some places 100 feet per mile. All public lands between Keno and Klamathon , California , bordering the river, were then withdrawn from public entry and reserved for power development. No water filings were made by the Reclamation Service at that time.

Southern Pacific Power Site. The property acquired by the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. was purchased from it by Copco in 1921. I t had a possible diversion dam site at the old crib dam and bridge on the Klamath River six miles below Keno. The Southern Pacific had made preliminary investigations and had excavated a bench along the north side of the river about three quarters of a mile long, which could be used in connection with any power development planned by that company.

It was assumed that this site together with a site on the North Umpqua River and one on the Willamette River, were part of a program to electrify the railroad from Redding, California to Eugene, Oregon if and when such a railroad was built.

Southern Oregon Water Company. A proposed development was that of the Southern Oregon Water Company who owned considerable of the riparian lands between Keno and the California-Oregon state line, about 1300 acres.

The incorporators of the Southern Oregon Water Company were mostly men connected with the Long-Bell Lumber Company. The lands were subsequently transferred to Weyerhaeuser. No developments of power were made although the lands controlled some of the important power sites.

Long-Bell Lumber Company was asked whether or not it intended to develop power on its holdings. It had thought at one time that it might be economical for Long-Bell and Weyerhaeuser jointly to develop power and use it in their mills and manufacturing plants when they built them in Klamath Falls , but were since convinced that they could buy power cheaper than they could develop it. Negotiations resulted in the purchase of all these holdings by Copco.

State of Oregon . On August 28, 1913 a withdrawal of 1000-second feet from appropriation of the waters of the Klamath River was made on behalf of the State of Oregon to be used for power development. Chapter 87, Laws of Oregon , 1913. Legal opinion pointed out that:

"In view of Chapter 228, General Laws of Oregon , 1905, and the action taken by the United States in pursuance thereto, it was questionable whether or not the state could issue any permits for the appropriation of any of the waters within the Klamath River and Lake Basins .

"If the state may issue permits, there is a legal question as to the effect of the state's withdrawal."

Keno Power Company. The Keno Power Company's first plant was put into operation in 1912. 

On April 4, 1917 the Keno Power Company asked the city of Klamath Falls for a franchise and grant for 25 years to supply for all purposes, electricity within the city limits as then established and within any future extended boundaries.

Copco asked for and obtained an injunction against granting such a franchise. This caused a battle between the two power companies.

Keno Power's power plant was being used to supply power and lights to a few farmers in the neighborhood of Keno, but it had no lines within the town of Klamath Falls and no line leading to it.

Copco brought suit in the Federal court on the basis that for a long time it had been serving Klamath Falls and was under Public Service Commission of Oregon, which had power to determine the convenience and necessity of allowing a second utility to invade the field of one already in an area.

Under date of June 15, 1917 , Keno Power Company gave the Oregon Klamath Record a story of its activities:

" ...we have made extensions totaling about ten miles of transmission lines serving new pumping station…100 H.P. The Pine Grove extension will serve a 75 HP plant and intend to serve all farmers above the reclamation canal. ...We have recently ordered a new turbine that will take care of all needs of Klamath county for several years to come."

The result of all the argument between Keno Power Company and Copco was confusion among the citizens of the community and the development of personal bitterness among the officers of both companies, which nearly developed into physical violence.

During August 1919 Copco made a study of the Klamath River canyon between Keno and the mouth of Spencer Creek including the power plant of the Keno Power Company. A fall of about 260 feet could be developed to produce about 48,000 KW.

Some riparian lands had already been acquired by Copco. All property ownerships were determined and other needed riparian lands surveyed.

The power plants and distribution lines of Keno Power Company were acquired by Copco on April 1, 1920 . They were operated as a separate utility until January 1, 1927 when they were merged into the Copco system.

In an August 8, 1919 reconnaissance report on the Klamath River at Keno the following data was included:

Drop in Kerns plant about 30 feet.

Dam about 400 feet long, rock cribs filled with loose rock and timber of all kinds. Two-inch planks placed vertically against upstream face of timber and rocks.

Canal 300 feet long, 30 feet wide at water surface, lined for 125 feet at lower end with concrete.

Old power house No. 1 (125 KW) no longer used.

Penstock to No. 2 power house made of concrete with wooden gates in concrete guides.

New power house No. 2 in fair shape, 360 KW generator. 2300 V, 200 RPM.

Line Voltage 10,000.

Water rights of Keno Power Company:             July 15, 1911      55 Sec ft

                                                                        Jan. 20, 1914    200 Sec ft

                                                                        June 11,1914    550 Sec ft

   Total 805 Sec ft

An additional 750 KW unit No.3 was moved from the Gold Ray Power Plant on Rogue River and installed in 1921 by Copco.

The Klamath Irrigation District on August 8, 1929 filed an application with the State Engineer to appropriate 2000-second feet of water from Klamath River to develop 22,600 horsepower (McCormick power site). Upon receipt of the application, the Attorney General issued an opinion dated September 3,1929 that unless it was determined by the State Engineer that there was no conflict with the water rights of the United States, that the application might be approved, but whatever rights might be allowed the district, such would be junior to those of the government. No further action was taken by the State Engineer. The application was authorized to be cancelled by the District.

          When this decision was known, Copco presented its claim for water rights and the State Engineer, on advice of the Attorney General, held that the power company had the same rights to appropriate water as the Irrigation District, providing that a waiver of power rights be made in favor of irrigation use. Such a waiver was executed by Copco and filed with the State Engineer's office. No approval was received.

U. S. Senate Bill S-3556, introduced at the request of the Klamath Irrigation District, was discussed on December 16, 1930 and January 19, 1931 before the Committee on Public Lands and Survey. This bill "authorized the sale of a certain tract of land in the state of Oregon to the Klamath Irrigation District." This McCormick site bill was never passed.

The Bureau of Reclamation advertised the McCormick site for sale on January 18, 1927 . Many protests were filed against the sale, so on the date of sale Copco made public a statement " ...that it was not interested in making a bid for purchase of the McCormick power site as it was not an economical site on which to build compared to some of the lower sites." However, if any bids were received Copco would withdraw this statement.

Buck Lake . During February 1914 investigation was made of Buck Lake as a source of water supply for irrigation in Rogue River Valley . Discharge measurements were made with a topographic survey of the drainage area. Elevation of the lake at about 5000 feet above sea level and a reservoir of 30,000 acre feet capacity could be created.

A tunnel of 10,000 feet, and a canal of about 25 miles in length would take the water from Buck Lake to the Dead Indian summit where about 25,000 acre feet of water could be delivered to the head of Walker Creek Rogue River side.

Buck Lake was acquired by Copco in 1924 and was considered of value as a regulated water supply for the Klamath River below Keno and a prospective gravity supply for the Klamath Falls domestic water system, 26 miles distant.

Shasta Valley Irrigation District. On August 20, 1920 Roy E. Swigart made application to appropriate 1500-second feet of water to be diverted at Keno for the Klamath-Shasta Valley Irrigation project.

On September 10, 1920 another filing was made for 4000-second feet to be diverted at Keno and all unappropriated and surplus water for irrigation in Sacramento Valley and for power purposes,

On December 24, 1920 application was made by Roy E. Swigert to appropriate 160,000 acre feet of water to be stored in Lower Klamath Lake for the proposed Klamath-Shasta Valley Irrigation project,

On December 30, 1920 headlines in Sacramento read that Shasta Valley's Narboe said, "Briefly the plan is to irrigate Shasta Valley with stored water from Klamath Lake without interfering with the agricultural needs of any part of the Klamath drainage basin and without reducing the power possibilities of the Klamath River, W, W, Watson was the engineer for District 11,"

On January 14, 1921 a meeting was called at Montague, California for the purpose of acquainting everyone with the Shasta Valley-Klamath Project, Hearings had been held before Secretary of Interior Payne at which Dr, Elwood Meade and Director Davis attended and they were to report that if the project was found feasible they would take up the question of water supply and Upper Klamath Lake storage, as they were the best authority to adjust the interest of irrigation and power.

Interest lagged and little if anything further was done for another ten years.

Sacramento Valley Farmers. September 20, 1930 headlines read, " Sacramento Valley farmers are endeavoring to get Klamath Water." Filing was made on 4000 second feet from Klamath River to develop power and furnish irrigation water for entire state-a $15,000,000 project. Representatives of Sacramento Valley Irrigation District encouraged by the Col. E. B. Marshall plan said the water could be taken down the Sacramento River all the way to southern California . "

City of Klamath Falls . The City of Klamath Falls made application July 24, 1933 , by Mayor Willis E. Mahoney to appropriate water to develop power for a municipal plant in the NE 1/4 of Sec. 31, T39S R7 E WM. The amount of power was not stated but 1500 second feet of water was specified. As Mahoney was advised that he would have to bring a suit against the State of Oregon to get a permit to use water, the application was withdrawn.