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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Response by Barb Hall, Klamath Bucket Brigade, to Mr. Amato of Salmon Trout Steelhead Magazine regarding article, 'Farmers versus Fish'  11/24/04


Mr. Amato:


As a landowner and stakeholder in the Klamath Project, I take exception with your Farmers versus Fish article written by Don Roberts in the Oct/Nov issue of Salmon Trout Steelhead Magazine.  This article should have been categorized as FICTION, since there are no true facts presented.   I will point out the most blatant examples.


Example in paragraph three:  "In 1905 the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) began altering the Klamath Basin -- a massive project of draining lakes and wetlands and diverting the water to arid reaches -- with the intent of creating an arable Eden in the midst of a sere savanna.  In effect, farms were liberally foisted upon an unwilling landscape."




Before Linkville was renamed Klamath Falls, pioneers came to the upper Klamath Basin, saw the farming potential, and started draining the tule marshes, diverting water from Link River, Lost River, and Upper Klamath Lake; and planting crops.  The original headgates and "A" canal were built by these original landowners/farmers.  The Bureau of Reclamation, also seeing the farm potential, came in, bought up the already built irrigation infrastructure, and expanded it over the next 50 years to irrigate over 220,000 acres.  Since the late 1950s, the amount of total irrigated acreage has stayed essentially the same.


Source:  The Klamath Project (Seventh Draft) Eric A. Stene Bureau of Reclamation History Program


“In 1882, five years after the Modoc War, farmers introduced irrigation to the Klamath area. Several Linkville residents incorporated the Linkville Water Ditch Company. They dug a low capacity ditch connecting town lots to the Link River, two miles above present day Klamath Falls. William Steele enlarged the ditch and extended it fifteen miles in 1884. The Klamath Falls Irrigation Company took over the ditch after Steele died in 1888. Subsequent enlargements turned the ditch into a high capacity canal, known as the Ankeny-Henley Canal.

The Van Brimmer Brothers also started a small ditch in 1882, to irrigate 4,000 acres near the Oregon-California border on Lost River. Construction took four years, and after completion, the brothers incorporated the Van Brimmer Ditch Company. Then, J. Frank Adams and some neighbors completed a six mile canal from Lost River to Adam's Point in 1886. Originally Adams ' canal received water from White Lake through the Van Brimmer canal. Light precipitation in the winter of 1887-88 left Adams ' canal dry, forcing him to tap Lower Klamath Lake as a more productive water supply. Adams lengthened the canal to twenty-two miles in 1904. Charles and Rufus Moore excavated a canal on the west side of the Link River rapids in 1877 to furnish power for a saw mill and transport logs from Upper Klamath Lake to the mill. The brothers built another canal, beginning in the same location, to power a flower mill and supply irrigation water for lots and orchards in west Klamath Falls.”

Example in paragraph four:  “The water crisis being wrangled in the courts today is all about facing the reality that a century ago the government promised farmers more reserves than it could deliver without destroying some of the most significant marsh lands, wildlife refuges and wild salmon runs in the nation.”


Before the Endangered Species Act and government Tribal Trust obligations, there was more than enough water to go around.  Only with the enactment of these two late coming regulatory burdens has there been a fight over the water in the Klamath River Basin.  Our wildlife refuges have not been destroyed.  There are over 240,000 acres today dedicated to wildlife owned by the U.S. Government, Oregon State Government, The Nature Conservancy, and private landowners.  Before 2001, farming in the Upper Klamath Basin was never blamed for the decline in the salmon runs on the Klamath River.  The natural resource industries that were blamed were over-fishing by commercial harvesters, loss of natural spawning and rearing habitat due to forestry practices, and ocean conditions.

Example in paragraph six:  “Defiant farmers have threatened to battle anything – laws and regulations, for example – and anyone who gets between them and the spigots.  But the larger story here is the complicity of the federal government:  The BOR has steadfastly gone out of its way to provide the philosophy and support enabling the more vocal farmers (clients) to launch a single-minded crusade for full, uncompromising water deliveries.”


Could Mr. Roberts please give examples where the Klamath Project farmers have battled or have not followed the rules and regulations of the Federal Government?  The only legal battles we fight are started by environmental groups, lawsuits initiated by us to retain our legal property rights and a petition asking to delist the Lost River and shortnose suckers from the Endangered Species list due to inaccurate, non peer-reviewed and junk science.

During the drought years of 1992 and 1994, the Klamath Project irrigators cut their water use dramatically to insure everyone – from the wildlife refuges to the downstream salmon – received their equal share of the water available.  Since 2001, the western United States is still in a drought mode.  Each year our farmers have voluntarily curtailed their water use, gone to more expensive conservation irrigation methods, idled more land, participated in the federally mandated Water Bank, and pumped groundwater for the wildlife refuges without compensation.  Doesn’t sound like “uncompromising” to me.  Environmentalists doing this much would be capitulating.

The following is from Summary of Environmental Restoration and Water Conservation Efforts Undertaken by Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) & Landowners   (page 6) http://www.kwua.org/conservation/10pgsummary083004.htm 

1999-2004 Klamath Project Demand Reduction Efforts Undertaken

To Meet Fishery, Tribal Trust and Refuge Needs

“Local water users have taken a leadership role in addressing water management actions to improve water supply reliability for Klamath Project irrigators, and to free up new supplies for imperiled fish species and nearby national wildlife refuges. KWUA has worked since 1999 to develop temporary demand reduction programs for the Klamath Project. The intent of these programs is to provide incentives to landowners to either idle cropland or use groundwater in place of Klamath Project water to meet newly created environmental water objectives proposed by federal fishery agencies. Meanwhile, local water users have taken voluntary actions to provide the nearby refuges with supplemental water supplies in recent years.”

Here’s a question for you, Mr. Amato:  What would you do if one morning you woke up and learned that you couldn’t publish your magazine anymore because the U.S. Government had repealed your right to “free speech”?  You’ve lost your livelihood.  Would you fight to regain that right?  Your government has turned its back on the promises it made over 200 years ago.  Wouldn’t you fight?

Entire paragraph nine:  “Less than two months later that “overstressed ecosystem” became the scene of the worst fish kill in history.  How did the BOR and the agri-interests of the upper Klamath respond?  No regret.  No shame.  No admission of guilt or culpability.  No attempt to rectify, seek solutions or compromise.  Instead the BOR and the farm lobby ratcheted up the noise, submersing the problem in decibels, while concocting a narrative meant to conceal and cast doubt.  In short, they seized upon an “alternative” science which posed a veritable cabal of assertions, including: 1. No one knows what killed these fish; 2. Increased flows wouldn’t have helped; 3. Water volume issues in the lower Klamath can be attributed to tributaries in Northern California; 4. Scientists have determined the Klamath Irrigation Project (KIP) is not responsible; 5. So far scientists have failed to prove low flows harm salmon.”


Mr. Roberts should have done his homework instead of repeating false information put out by the Oregon Natural Resource Council, WaterWatch, and Glen Spain, an environmental attorney who claims to represent fishermen.

Study Shows That Klamath River Temperatures – Not Klamath Project Operations – Are Likely Reason for 2002 Fish Die-Off, by David Vogel Document by David Vogel directed to Fish and Game's statement  on the 2002 fish die-off, March 11, 2003  http://kwua.org/factsheets/tempdieoffvogel0303.htm

MYTH VS. FACT: 2002 Klamath River Fish Die-Off  http://kwua.org/factsheets/mythfactdieoff041603.htm

Document by David Vogel directed to Fish and Game's statement
on the 2002 fish die-off
, March 11, 2003  http://kwua.org/science/vogfgdieoff031103.htm

This is “alternative” science?  These facts come from a fish biologist with a Master of Science degree in Natural Resources (Fisheries) from the University of Michigan in 1979 and a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Bowling Green State University in 1974?  David Vogel Biography - http://kwua.org/factsheets/vogelbio.htm

Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong in 2003, based on the conflicting evidence presented by the parties regarding the cause of the fish die-off, found that a “triable issue of fact” exists as to whether Reclamation breached its duty to the Yurok Tribes through its operation of the Klamath Project. Accordingly, the Court denied the Tribes’ motions for summary judgment on this matter. Further, later in 2003, the NRC committee in its final Klamath report did not accept arguments that the operation of the Klamath Project caused the 2002 fish die-off or that changes in the operation of the Project at the time would not have prevented it.

Myth:  Klamath Project operators extract only a very small portion of water from the river.

Real Truth:

Since the Klamath Project sits at the top of the Klamath River watershed – 270 miles from the ocean – the  water available in the river at the mouth is only decreased by 2 to 4% (depending on water year type) by Klamath Project operations.  Annual outflow at the mouth averages 12 MILLION acre-feet, while the Klamath Project averages less then 400,000 acre-feet.

The following is from a July 20, 2004, Capital Press article - Hint: States, feds will unite on Klamath solutions  http://www.capitalpress.info/main.asp?FromHome=1&TypeID=1&SectionID=67&ArticleID=11124&SubSectionID=792

“A consulting hydrologist, Mark Van Camp of Sacramento, told the water users an analysis of the draft BuRec historic water flow study shows that downstream flows have increased 30 percent over discharges before settlement. That’s apparently because the irrigated land uses less water than evaporation loss from the thousands of acres of wetlands that existed before the shallow lakebeds were diked, drained and put to the plow.”  (Emphasis added)

Final Draft – Undepleted Natural Flow of the Upper Klamath River by the Bureau of Reclamation 12/08/03  http://www.usbr.gov/mp/kbao/docs/DraftFinalRpt.pdf

The following chart is courtesy of the Klamath Bucket Brigade staff research and represents only the water available for irrigation from Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River, not the Lost River system or ground water pumping:


Myth:  Basin farmers should have the say because they paid for the Klamath Irrigation Project.


Real Truth:


I have no idea where Mr. Roberts got the idea that Basin farmers think they have any say in what the government does or doesn’t do, except in the voting booth.


The acts authorizing the Klamath Project required the irrigators to repay project capital costs, which they have done, with the exception of the costs of "reserved work” facilities.


Moreover, the idea that Klamath Project farmers have subsidized water rates, grow only subsidized crops, pay nothing to the Bureau for distribution of the water through the Project, and grow crops that the market doesn’t want or need, is ludicrous.


First, the Klamath Project farmers do not pay a dime for the water to irrigate their crops – the water is free and is a property right inherent to the land.  Each landowner in the Klamath Project pays Operations and Maintenance (O&M) fees to each district in the Project for water delivery.  The districts then pass on a percentage of those fees to the Bureau of Reclamation to pay for upkeep and maintenance on “reserved works” and for upgrades to Project infrastructure like the addition to the Clear Lake dam.  The current O&M for the Klamath Irrigation District farmers is $33.50 per acre.  That’s almost $24,000 of expense to farm 700 acres due each year – before a seed is planted – with no guarantee that one drop of water will be delivered.


The only subsidized crops grown in the Klamath Project are wheat, barley, and oats. According to the 2003 U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Crop Report – of the 220,000 total acres – only 50,825 acres of LDP subsidized grain were grown.  Potatoes, onions, mint, alfalfa, etc., are not subsidized by crop and price support payments.  As for the produce we grow not being needed, you need to talk to Lay’s Potato Chips, Ore-Ida, Budweiser Beer, soccer moms from Seattle to Los Angeles – who buy Klamath Potatoes at their local grocery chain store – and dairymen all along the west coast and in Japan who demand Klamath Basin alfalfa hay for their milk cows. 


1,400 Klamath Project farmers sell nearly $25 Million of potatoes, $50 Million of alfalfa and $15 Million of onions each year plus other crops.  If there were not a market for our crops, the Water Crisis of 2001 wouldn’t have happened; the farmers here would have been gone a long time ago.


Mr. Roberts, please name one corporation owned farm or ranch in the Klamath Project. Some family farms have incorporated, but they are not owned by huge industrial agri-operations!


And please tell me of any industry in the United States that doesn’t get tax breaks on operation expenses at tax time.


Myth:  Less water committed to KIP will lead to economic disaster in the region.


Real Truth:


Please tell me what percentage “publishing” contributes to the personal income and  economic statistics in the Portland metro area?  Could it be even less then 1%?  Why is “publishing” a magazine a fine lifestyle livelihood – and farming isn’t?


“Publishing” decimates our forests for the paper that idiotic articles like this are printed on.  Speaking of our forests – and the forest product mills that crank out the lumber for our homes, the toilet paper to wipe our butts, and the paper for magazines, newspapers, the packaging for your Soy “GardenBurgers,” and published environmental group “talking points” – the Klamath Basin was once home to 11 lumber mills that employed over 15,000 men and women.  Because of another Endangered Species, the Spotted Owl, those jobs have been reduced by ninety percent.  This was true “economic disaster” and the aftermath wasn’t pretty.  Losing another resource-based industry in the Klamath Basin would not only profoundly impact southern Oregon and Northern California, but would economically devastate the entire west coast.


The rest of Mr. Roberts’s article is so full of hyperbole that it doesn’t deserve a point-by-point response, but he quotes Hunter and Pedery of WaterWatch; two people who live in wood houses, drive SUV’s, and flood the world with green environmental rhetoric,  but have never done a single thing on the ground to help the environment.  One of my favorite quotes is:  The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty.  The activist is the man who cleans up the river.  ~ Ross Perot

In the past year, our irrigators have finally begun to get the recognition – if not the actual regulatory relief – they deserve for their proactive efforts. To wit: 

·         Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) was awarded the 2003 “Leadership in Conservation” award by the Oregon Department of Agriculture;

·         KWUA, last month, was honored on the steps of the Oregon state capitol for “exemplifying the spirit” of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds;

·         Tulelake Irrigation District in January received the F. Gordon Johnston award for its innovative canal lining project completed near Newell; and

·         U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and NRCS chief Bruce Knight last month recognized local rancher Mike Byrne for his leadership in conservation. 

It is clear that our irrigators have not been idle in the past ten years. Their efforts to improve their environment are all the more impressive when you consider that, all the while, the uncertainty and difficulty associated with keeping their farming operations profitable have not diminished.

Klamath Project farmers are working to clean up the river, changing their farming practices, and trying to work with the government agencies and environmental groups to reach a consensus that will help the environment and enable them to continue with their chosen profession.


What is wrong with that?  Why can’t people who don’t live here, don’t work here, and have never visited here, let us clean up our own problems without sticking their two cents’ worth in?


I think Klamath Basin farmers need to start focusing their attention on the environmental problems in the Portland metro area and start writing slanted fictitious articles blaming everything on Portland magazine publishers.  Let’s start raising Cain about the pollution in the Willamette and Columbia River and its effect on the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead runs. Wouldn't that be fair?


Barbara Hall

Klamath Project Landowner and

Board member of the Klamath Bucket Brigade, Inc.







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