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Project irrigation: A primer
Water from Upper Klamath Lake is recycled through a canal system before being returned to the Klamath River
by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 4/19/12
H&N photo by Joel Aschbrenner Mark Stuntebeck, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District, stands near the Klamath Reclamation Project’s C Canal. With a channel that flows backward, recirculated water and hundreds of miles of canals, the Project is a complex and often misunderstood system, he said.
A channel that flows backward, a river to nowhere, and hundreds of miles of canals and dikes that reclaim former marshland.
The Klamath Reclamation Project is a complex and often misunderstood system, said Mark Stuntebeck, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District.
Many Klamath Basin residents, even some irrigators, think getting water to farmers and ranchers is as easy as pushing a button to open the A Canal headgates at Upper Klamath Lake. Not the case, Stuntebeck said.
The district must make precise adjustments daily to ensure irrigators have enough water for their crops, but not so much that water goes to waste. In years like this, when a drought threatens to limit irrigators’ water supply, conserving water is critical, Stuntebeck said.
Project irrigators get whatever water is left after certain amounts are retained in Upper Klamath Lake and sent downriver for endangered sucker and salmon, respectively.
Before the early 1990s, when endangered species protections first began to limit irrigators’ water supply, many Project irrigators knew little about the canal system, Stuntebeck said. Today, there’s more interest in how the system works and making it more efficient, he said.
From lake to farmer to river: How Project water flows
Here’s a look at how water gets from Upper Klamath Lake to producers’ fields:
• Most of the Klamath Reclamation Project’s water flows through the A Canal headgates just above Link River Dam, though some is taken downstream from the Klamath River at the Lost River Diversion Channel. The headgates can be adjusted remotely from the Klamath Irrigation District office.
• Each evening, producers tell the Klamath Irrigation District if they will need water the next day. KID also provides water for the Enterprise, Pine Grove, Shasta View, Malin, Van Brimmer and Klamath Basin Improvement irrigation districts.
• Ditch riders, district employees who each maintain and operate canals for about 300 producers, then begin making adjustments so water will arrive where needed. They use a series of “checks” and “spills” to manage the water flow. “Checks” are like small dams with slots in them, said Mark Stuntebeck, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District; ditch riders manually place or remove boards in the slots to adjust the flow. When water is too high in the canal it flows into a “spill” structure, where water can be held for later use, he said.
“Ditch riding is a learned skill over time,” Stuntebeck said. “There isn’t exactly a book out there that tells you what to do.”
• Much of the water that drains off producers’ fields flows into the Lost River, but at that point it hasn’t finished its irrigation duties yet. The Lost River flows from Clear Lake Reservoir through the Langell and Poe valleys, around the Henley area and Merrill before dead-ending in Tule Lake. Tulelake Irrigation District producers use the Lost River water to irrigate their potatoes, horseradish and other crops.
• Water from the Tulelake area — a natural marsh — must be pumped uphill through Sheepy Ridge to Lower Klamath Lake. From there it flows to the Klamath River via the Klamath Straits Drain.
But not all of the Lost River’s water makes it to Tule Lake. Some is sent back to the Klamath River through the Lost River Diversion Channel, the canal that flows under Highway 39 just south of Henley High School.
The diversion channel may be the Project’s oddest feature. It can flow in either direction, depending on how high the water is at the Wilson Dam, where the channel meets the Lost River, Stuntebeck said.
• Even the water flowing out of the Project through the diversion channel can be put to use once more. Pumps can divert water from the channel south to the Tulelake Irrigation District, Stuntebeck said.
“There aren’t many places where you have a canal that flows both ways and you can use water who knows how many times before dumping it back in the river,” Stuntebeck said.
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Page Updated: Friday April 20, 2012 02:36 AM Pacific
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