Herald and News
Published February 22, 2004 - pg A1
Report: Water savings less than hoped in payment
Rangeland Trust cut water use by less than half as
thought in 2002
By Dylan Darling
H&N Staff Writer
The Federal government says a $1 million project
that paid irrigators above Upper Klamath Lake not to
water their pastures in 2002 cut water use by only
half as much as the project's sponsors estimated.
The problem? The estimate didn't take into account
how much water that native grasses and other
vegetation would take up and allow to evaporate into
The project began in the spring of 2002 and was one
of the Bush administration's first efforts to find
solutions to the struggle that had resulted in a
water cutoff and national publicity in the Klamath
Basin the year before.
James Connaughton, chairman of the White House
Council on Environmental Quality, came to the Basin
to announce the pilot project, which was initiated
by the leaders of the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust
(KBRT), Jim Root and Kurt Thomas.
The idea was to pay water users not to irrigate and
thus raise the level of Upper Klamath Lake.
After the first season, the trust leaders estimated
the project allowed an extra 7,677 acre-feet of
water to flow into the lake.
But the Bureau of Reclamation, which provided the
funds for the water buy-out, estimated the amount of
water saved as 2,908 acre-feet.
In a report made public last week, scientists for
the U.S. Geological Survey concluded the Bureau was
closer in its estimate.
"The KBRT analysis assumes that 'native' vegetation
will not use groundwater after forbearance," the
USGS report states. "We believe this assumption is
incorrect and therefore KBRT overestimates the
actual amount of water saved."
Officials pointed to a lack of data as the reason
for the overestimation
The trust is a tax-advantaged, non-profit entity set
up to pursue conservation goals in the upper part of
the Basin. Root and Thomas, too, have taken key
roles in sponsoring talks among water users, the
Klamath Tribes and other interests at the Shilo Inn,
aimed at resolving issues related to the water
Root's daughter, Chrysten Lambert, director of the
trust, said that when the project started, the
Rangeland Trust had little information on how much
water is consumed in irrigation.
"This area hasn't been monitored much, so it is
going to be a while until we get a good data set,"
To make up for the lack of baseline data for the
pilot project, she said, the Rangeland Trust used
estimates made by two Oregon State University
scientists - Richard Cuenca and Larry Mahrt - the
trust contracted to help with the project.
In 2002, the irrigation water rights for 3,161 acres
of pasture in the Wood River Valley were left
in-stream, and cattle heard sizes on those
properties were reduced by about 80 percent from
historic levels, according to the Rangeland Trust
The Rangeland Trust used $1 million in federal money
to pay property owners who participated in the
project and to cover the costs of research and
Dennis Lynch, regional director was unavailable for
comment about the review and a Geological Survey
scientist contacted by the Herald and News about the
report said he couldn't comment.
John Rasmussen, a Bureau scientist, said the
Rangeland Trust estimated twice as much water was
saved from the cutting of evapotranspiration as the
Bureau did. Evapotranspiration is the loss of water
from the soil both by evaporation and water vapor
rising out of the plants that grow in the soil.
He too attributed the over-estimation to a lack of
"What do you compare it to? What were they using
before?" he said.
In their review, the Geological Survey scientists
suggest that the Rangeland Trust build up data about
the valley so it could have something with which to
compare its findings. This could take several
Although the suggestion makes sense, Lambert said
the immediate needs of the Basin weigh in as well.
She said we need to "start helping the system now
instead of waiting several years before improving
Jim Root said the Geological Survey suggests that
the Rangeland Trust hold off on forbearance and
restoration activity for five to ten years while
baseline data is collected.
"We disagree with that approach," Root said. "It
may be accurate from a scientific point of view, but
from a practical or political point of view, we feel
like we need to be doing actual work during that
five to ten year period."
He also said the Geological Survey recommends that
the Rangeland Trust upgrades the equipment it uses.
The upgrade would cost about $3 million.
"We are just not able to raise that kind of money,"
Root said. And, he said, for the level of accuracy
that the Rangeland Trust is shooting for, the
current equipment will work.
Lambert said the water saving estimates for 2003's
Rangeland Trust project, which was expanded to 6,400
acres, are more in line with the Bureau's
estimates. About $1.9 million in federal money was
spent on the project.
The Bureau is currently in negotiations with the
Rangeland Trust for its contract for this year.
Root has said he wants to expand the project to
20,000 to 30,000 acres on which cattle hers would be
reduced by about 70 percent.
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