Ken Rykbost, center, shares a laugh
with Klamath County Commissioner Bill
Brown, right, and about 100 people who
turned out to honor him.
33 years of water and potatoes
Friends honor spud breeder, devil’s advocate in
Capital Press Staff Writer
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – They kidded Ken Rykbost
about showing up at 7:30 a.m. even in the two
years since he officially retired as
superintendent of Oregon State University’s
Klamath Experiment Station.
But last week, the morning after about 100
community members and folks from the potato
industry gave Rykbost a for-real retirement party
– his last day as a part-time part of the station
staff was Feb. 28 – there was Rykbost at his desk
before 8 a.m.
“It was fun,” he said.
Rykbost has 33 years wrapped up in potato
research, 20 years of it at the Klamath station.
He was part of getting the classic Shepody variety
ready for prime time as a processing potato. While
on the Cornell University staff he sought the
cause of nitrates in rural wells, and here he
sorted through thousands of red potato varieties
to help local farmers sharpen their niche-market
But for the community leaders who gathered at
Antonio’s in Klamath Falls, it was Rykbost the
investigator of water problems that got the most
attention. He was part of an OSU team that looked
at nutrient loading in the Upper Klamath Lake
watershed. Then in 2003, two years after the
cutoff of federal irrigation water that dried up
crops at the experiment station and the more than
1,000 basin farms, Rykbost produced a large report
on historic water flows in the Klamath Basin.
Among his findings, presented at public meetings
and criticized by some involved in the ongoing
Klamath water controversies, is that in most years
the 10 million-acre basin is quite dry in the
summer. Stream flows in August and September are
low, without an upstream irrigation system; data
indicate flows would be even lower in the driest
State Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, said he
has never heard complaints about the content of
Rykbost’s water papers, rather “they are trying to
assassinate him as the messenger.”
County Commissioner Bill Brown, who presented a
plaque on behalf of local government, described
Rykbost as a man of “courage.” The Oregon Potato
Commission and Klamath Water Users Association
both recognized Rykbost for service.
Rykbost talked briefly, said he didn’t really want
to be quoted, and as quickly as the formal stuff
was over, he beamed while greeting person after
person in the crowded room.
Colleagues said they didn’t think the
sometimes-shy Rykbost would agree to a retirement
party. In an interview, he admitted attention is
not his favorite thing.
The next morning, he could say it was fun. And he
could talk about his new passion for varmint
hunting that included a gift at the dinner of 500
rounds of special .17 caliber ammunition and a
slick Filson field bag to carry it in.
Rykbost also promised not to be silent as he
studies more of the mountains of water data being
generated as stakeholders seek resolutions to
Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail
address is email@example.com