50 Years On The Klamath
by John C. Boyle
Contract of February 24, 1917 - 2006
Upper Klamath Lake impounds
the water from Wood, Williamson and Sprague
Rivers and from numerous inflow
To the South in Oregon and California were situated
Lake and Tule Lake.
South and east of
Upper Klamath Lake were
thousands of acres of level and fertile lands in
Klamath, Langell, Poe, Yonna and
In 1902, following passage of the Reclamation Act,
the United States
investigated the possibilities of irrigating these
lands. By 1904 the Department of Interior through
the Reclamation Service was convinced from its
studies that over 200,000 acres could be irrigated
by gravity and by pumping water to higher levels,
but to do so it would be necessary to appropriate
all the unappropriated waters in the Klamath
Applications were made to the States of Oregon and
California for use of all the water in the basin
Upper Klamath Lake and its
tributaries and the right to unwater Lower Klamath
for reclamation purposes.
In 1905 the State of Oregon adopted the following
"Section 1 -That for the purpose of aiding in the
operation of irrigation and reclamation conducted by
the Reclamation Service of the United States,
established by the act of Congress approved June 17,
1902 (32 Stat. 388) known as the Reclamation Act,
the United States is hereby authorized to lower the
water level of Upper Klamath Lake, situated in
Klamath County, Oregon, and to lower the water level
of, or to drain any or all of the following lakes:
Lower or Little Klamath Lake, and the Tule or Rhett
Lake, situated in Klamath County, Oregon and Goose
Lake situated in Lake County, Oregon; and Clear Lake
located in both states: and to use any part or all
of the beds of said lakes for reclamation purposes.
"Section 2. -That there be and hereby is ceded to
the United States all the right, title, interest, or
claim of this State to any land uncovered by the
lowering of the water levels, or by drainage of any
or all of said lakes not already disposed of by the
State: and the lands hereby ceded may be disposed of
by the United States, free of any claim on the part
of this State in any manner that may be deemed
advisable by its authorized agencies, in pursuance
of the pro- visions of said Reclamation Act.
20th, 1905 . (Chapter 5 of General Laws
of Oregon, 1905.)"
Following this action by the State of Oregon,
Congress in the same year passed an Enabling Act as
"The Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized
in carrying out any irrigation project that may be
undertaken by him under the terms and conditions of
the National Reclamation Act and which may involve
the changing the levels of the Lower, or Little
Klamath Lake, Tule, or Rhett Lake and Goose Lake, or
any river or other body of water connected
therewith, in the States of Oregon and California,
to raise or lower the levels of said lakes as may be
necessary and to dispose of any lands which may come
into possession of the United States as a result
thereof by cession of any State or otherwise under
the terms and conditions of the National
Reclamations Act (33 Stat. 714)."
A change in the levels of the Upper Klamath Lake
from those of the natural conditions became a matter
of discussion with the owners of land riparian to
the lake, with navigation interests, timber and
sawmill operations and any others who believed they
would be affected. Very few if any had definite
opinions on how regulations would damage their
properties. In fact some believed that the proposed
regulation would be beneficial. So the problem was
left pending further developments.
The Klamath Project was favorably recommended April
1905 and allotment of funds requested. The
(1) The project was feasible.
(2) Farmers and residents of
were in favor.
(3) Negotiations were well advanced toward acquiring
legislature and U. S. Congress had enacted all
The Secretary of the Interior thereon formally
approved the Project on
1905 and set aside funds for its
construction; $4,400,000 was allotted of which
$1,000,000 was immediately available.
About 220,000 acres were included in the project at
an estimated average construction cost of about
$20.00 per acre for water.
About 1,500,000 acre-feet of water flowed in and out
Upper Klamath Lake annually
disregarding evaporation losses. During irrigation
season, the Reclamation Service estimated a maximum
of 1500-second feet and 300,000 acre feet yearly
would be required to meet its needs from
Upper Klamath Lake . However,
the summer outflow of the lake was known to be as
low as 800-second feet under natural conditions.
The original plan of the Reclamation Service also
included the use of the
for storage of water for the generation of electric
power for pumping.
The maximum high-water level under natural
conditions in the
Upper Lake was at elevation
4143.3 feet above sea 1evel and occurred on
1907 . The minimum low-water level was
4140.0 in September 1908. Average natural
fluctuation of the water surface was about 2 feet.
It was evident that there was an abundance of water
Upper Klamath Lake to supply
water for all irrigation requirements from that
source. If the lake was regulated between elevations
4137.0 and 4143.3 (a 6.3 foot draw down)
there would be a regulated flow of 1400 second feet
to the U. S. Main Canal A and about 1500 second feet
for power purposes at and below Keno. The regulation
was therefore established as between 4143.3 and
4137.0 or 6.3 feet and the volume of usable storage
estimated at 440,000 acre feet or about one-third of
the total average annual outflow of the lake.
To carry out such regulation, it
would be necessary to construct a dam at the head of
and recognize that changes from
the natural state might adversely affect interests
of any and all riparian landowners, or vested
rights, whether private or governmental. It meant
that natural conditions would be largely reversed,
that normal spring flows to the lake would be
impounded and released later in the season. Also
that maximum flows in the
might often occur in the summer
rather than in the spring adversely affecting
riparian rights below the dam.
The Klamath Water Users Association was organized
1905 and incorporated with capital stock
of $2,000,000. The association contracted with the
Secretary of Interior to assume responsibilities for
paying to the government the cost of the irrigation
works. The association helped in signing up land,
and in other land and water right matters, and
worked in friendly relations with the Reclamation
Service until 1908 when the original estimated
$20.00 per acre charge was modified to actual costs.
The association denied liability for any extra
When the Secretary of Interior ordered all
construction on the Klamath Project suspended, the
association agreed to pay the charges of $20 or more
if fixed by the Secretary of Interior, and the
association fearing that funds for the Klamath
Project would be diverted, assured the Secretary of
The Klamath Water Users Association served a useful
purpose during the development of the early
irrigation system. It was headed by farmers,
livestock men, businessmen, bankers, attorneys and
many well-known citizens who were interested in
seeing that the Klamath Reclamation Project was
constructed at the least cost and for the lasting
benefit of the entire community.
Of the $2,250,000 allocated by 1908 about $1,350,000
had been spent on purchase of canals, property,
water rights and the construction of
Lake Dam, Keno
Items, which were expected to be utilized on
development of future units of the project, were
considered as "control purchases. " These
expenditures were not charged to the project, and
title was held exclusively by the United
The Reclamation Service with its know-how was
building an excellent project in engineering,
construction and operation. By 1909 the landowners
believed that the costs per acre for water were
going to far exceed the original estimates and asked
that a special board be appointed to investigate and
review the general features of the project.
The board report indicated that:
(1) The original construction estimates would be
(2) Contingencies in the original estimates were
inadequate due to added engineering and
administrative charges, purchase of lands, etc.
(3) The total acreage in the upper part of the
project could be cut from 48,000 acres to 36,000
(4) The Keno
Canal from Klamath
Falls to Keno and west side of Lower Klamath
Lake could be eliminated.
(5) Some pumping projects and the Modoc subproject
could be postponed.
(6) The reclamation of Lower
Klamath Lake was questionable, due to
soil conditions. The lands surrounding it were
largely in private hands and could be released to
(7) The Keno cut for draining Lower Klamath
Lake and helping the
River diversion could
be eliminated and by use of head gates and pumps at
the railroad crossing at Ady, Lower Klamath
Lake could be dried up.
(8) Unforeseen drainage problems needed attention.
At no time up to 1910 was mention made of a need for
regulation of the
Upper Klamath Lake.
Lake was considered
to be a better reservoir than
Upper Klamath Lake. Since
only 30,000 acres were then served under the
Upper Klamath Lake it was
believed that lake regulations would not be
necessary for some time to come.
By December 31, 1912, the Government had made
allotments of about $3,000,000.00 to the Klamath
Project, had spent over $2,250,000.00 and had only
been able to serve about 30,000 acres, 10,000 of
which had formerly been irrigated. As the Government
had already undertaken 20 or 30 reclamation projects
and had spent over $50,000,000.00 in efforts to
develop the arid west, the feeling prevailed that it
was time to take a good look at future expenditures
on the Klamath Project.
The predecessors of the California Oregon Power
Company (Copco) in 1902 had owned riparian property
that constituted a power site on the
California. In 1909, the Company made water
appropriations and in 1910 started construction work
on its No. 1 Copco power plant. Careful stream
gaugings were taken of the river. By 1915 it was
realized that unless the United States carried out
its plan of regulating the Upper Klamath Lake, the
river would often, if not regularly, be extremely
low during the summer months, but if this regulation
was carried out by the U. S. Government, a uniform
flow of about 1500 second feet could be maintained
in the Klamath River at Keno.
The U. S. Government was approached and the company
was told that although the Government contemplated
the regulation and control of Upper Klamath Lake
where needed, it was not in a position to get
appropriations for that purpose and could not
indicate when Congress might make an appropriation.
Negotiations were started whereby the power company
would build Link River Dam, take care of claims for
damages and regulate the lake subject to Government
supervision and subject to supplying all water
needed for irrigation purposes first. The dam and
dam site would be conveyed to the United
States, and power would be furnished to the
irrigation project at estimated cost.
The outcome was a contract between the power company
and the Department of Interior dated
24, 1917. This was one of the first if not the
first joint venture between the Department of
Interior and a private industry.
The California-Oregon Power Company had already
entered into the distribution of power in the
Klamath Falls area.
The predecessors of Copco had purchased the Klamath
Light and Power Company from the Moore Bros. on
31, 1910 . The
had built transmission lines to Merrill and Bonanza.
This purchase included all the electric generating
and distribution facilities then located on
and the water system serving the City of Klamath
In 1911, Copco built a transmission line
from Fall Creek via Dorris to
No.4) to better serve the Klamath area.
In compliance with the terms of the contract, the
power company started work at the head of
River and built a
crib dam in the spring of 1919, which partially
regulated the lake and demonstrated the need for
storage of water in the lake. This dam had a dual
purpose: to start regulating the lake, and to divert
the river as needed for foundation work on the main
1918 was a dry year and on
July 18, 1918, the Link
was dry due to heavy south winds on the Upper
Klamath Lake . Had water been required
for the 60,000 acres which had signed for water from
Upper Klamath Lake, this acreage would have been
short during the summer of 1918 by about 20,000 acre
feet. The deficiencies during subsequent years did
not occur, thanks to regulation with the crib dam,
during 1919, 1920 and 1921, after which the
permanent dam was effective. During all the cycle of
dry years up to and including 1931, sufficient water
was available from
Upper Klamath Lake to
irrigate all lands that were entitled to it from
Without a regulating dam, the deficiency would have
been 20,000 acre-feet in 1918. In 1924, the
deficiency would have been 63,000 acre-feet. In
1931, the deficiency would have been 75,000
acre-feet. In January 1920 an appropriation of
$1,213,000 was approved by the U.S. Government, and
Project Manager Herbert D. Newell stated that he
"expected that this appropriation would enable work
to start in 1920 on extensions that will carry water
to the lands in the Tule Lake district, Langell
Valley and Horsefly development will also receive
impetus and construction and repairs of the system
will be forwarded."
The U. S. Government had purchased the Keno Canal
and in 1907 and 1908 proceeded to reconstruct it. On
December 31, 1910 Copco purchased the Moore Bros.
electric and distribution facilities including the
water right for 205 second feet to be delivered to
the west side powerhouse by the U. S. project.
The U. S. Government had also purchased the Ankeny
Canal and the Leavitt tract with the
rights which went with them.
Both of these canals were purchased by the U. S.
Government as part of the control purchase needed
for the development of the Klamath Reclamation
In 1915 and 1916, when the contract to regulate the
Upper Klamath Lake was being
considered, the U. S. Government decided to lease or
dispose of both of these canals. So when the
contract of February 24, 1917 was signed, it
provided for a lease to Copco of the Keno Canal for
a period of 10 years at an annual rental of $1,000
per year with a renewal clause for an additional 10
years and with the obligation that the leasee should
operate and maintain the canal and hold the U. S.
Government harmless from any claims for damage.
1918, the Secretary of the Interior
authorized the sale of the Ankeny Canal and Leavitt
tract, appraised at $21,859.00, but the property was
not sold as no bids were received.
Local citizens during 1920-1922 urged the
United States to sell both properties
and pave the way for a power development on
needed in Klamath Falls and surrounding area. So on
April 25, 1923 both the Ankeny and Keno
advertised for sale at an appraised value of
$120,620.00 and sold to Copco at that figure.
Although the contract to purchase these canals was
1923, because of continued protests, the deed from
the U. S. Government was not recorded until
The U. S. Government, through the Department of
Interior, consistently defended the contract of
24, 1917 and declared it to be in the
public interest. It was necessary, however, for
Copco to carry most of the defense of the contract
and most of the expense.
For a list of many, if not all, of the public
hearings and reports involving the contract, see
There was a minority group in
opposed to any contract between Copco and the
government. Some claimed that the contract to
Upper Klamath Lake was a
give-away bordering on fraud. Others claimed the
power octopus wanted to get control of all the power
sites in Klamath
County. It would generate power and
send it to
San Francisco and thereby
take the water away from the farmers and the
irrigation project. Others claimed the company in
regulating the lake was destroying navigation,
recreation, and any industries bordering the lake.
It was this minority group that caused most of the
criticism and was responsible for most of the
It is interesting to note that the contract was
carefully reviewed by four Secretaries of the
Interior -Lane, Payne, Fall and Work.
By far the largest majority of businessmen, farmers
and citizens of
supported immediate regulation of the lake because
of railroad expansion, increase of industrial
development, and the need for more lands to receive
The year 1924 saw the development of the East Side
Power Plant No.3 on
and Copco No.2 plant was completed in 1925. These
were the last plants constructed by Copco in the
Klamath basin for the next thirty years.
26, 1928 , John C. Boyle and Nina C.
Boyle deeded the dam and land on which it was
located to the United States
1956 the contract of
24, 1917 was extended until 2006. (See
It took 18 years or about one-third of the term of
the contract to obtain mutually satisfactory
agreements with all riparian owners and to regulate
Upper Klamath Lake through
the full range of 6.3 feet.