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Commission backs Clear Lake water storage study.  Cost, feasibility, other questions raised as major roadblocks
  by SAMANTHA TIPLER, Herald and News 1/15/15
     The Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District is moving forward on its idea to use Clear Lake, just over the California border, to store irrigation water for the Klamath Basin.

   Wednesday, the Klamath County commission gave its endorsement for the Klamath SWCD to pursue a feasibility study.

   “I think we’d be very foolish and very short-sighted to not endorse this wholeheartedly,” commission chairman Tom Mallams said of the feasibility study. “This is a nuts-and-bolts solution that has been staring at us for decades, and decades and decades. Politically, it’s never been very high on the radar because it is a very simple solution.”

   The idea is to store Upper Klamath Lake water in Clear Lake by pumping it through Klamath Project canals in the winter and spring months. The water would be stored for west side irrigators, Project Irrigators, and maybe even the Klamath Refuge, if enough water were available.

   Critics have charged that nearly all the water in the Basin is already accounted for, and the idea skirts adjudicated water regulations.

   Joe Watkins, Klamath SWCD executive director, and Brian Quick, watershed coordinator, made the pitch. They cautioned Clear Lake is a preliminary idea. The next step is getting grant funding for a feasibility study to find if it will work or not.

   “I support off-stream storage,” said commissioner Jim Bellet. “I think that’s the whole solution to the problem.”

   Large hurdles

   Commissioner Kelley Minty Morris voted with the other two commissioners to endorse the study, but she had reservations about the Clear Lake idea as a whole. Her biggest concern: cost. There is no price tag for the project.

   “It’s very hard for me to say I support a project without having any sense of what the cost might be,” she said. “While we may support the concept, if the cost were in the billions of dollars, it takes it out of reality. Then I wouldn’t support it.”

   She also worried about environmental concerns. She and Bellet asked if the Klamath SWCD had met with the Klamath Tribes.  

   “We’ve tried to stay nonpolitical about this,” Watkins said.

   But Bellet and Minty Morris pointed out the Tribes are a stakeholder and should be included in the conversation.

   Minty Morris also asked about a timeline. Quick said the study would likely take one or two years. If Clear Lake still looks promising, it’s unclear how long it would take to fund a project. But Quick was optimistic, saying 16 western states are looking at water storage options.

   “Water storage is becoming an important aspect across the West,” Quick said. “Things are going to move more quickly than they would have 15 years ago.”

   “Theoretically,” Minty Morris shot back. “I don’t know. People were looking at it then, and people are looking at it often.”

   Mallams wanted to see what happens with the feasibility study.

   “See if it does work. Get those hard numbers,” he said. “That’s the only place it can be answered is a feasibility study.”


   In the midst of water politics in the Klamath Basin, Watkins claimed Clear Lake is an option that could work with or without the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the  Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement and the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement.

   “This works whatever happens with the agreements,” Watkins said. “It’s a good, flexible option for the (Klamath) Project.”

   “This project could work in concert with whatever happens or whatever doesn’t happen,” Mallams agreed.

    stipler@heraldandnews.com  ; @TiplerHN

“Klamath Soil and Water has their neck out on the chopping block. What we’re doing right now, and as far out as we’re getting right now … this thing is coming out in the open; it’s as political as things are here,” Watkins said. “Our neck is on the chopping block if this is stopped. But it does not move forward without the village. Without your guys’ support, that doesn’t help our efforts at all.”

  H&N photos by Samantha Tipler
 Joe Watkins and Brian Quick, left, with the Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District, asked Klamath County commissioners during a Wednesday meeting to endorse a feasibility study of whether Clear Lake is a viable water storage option for the Klamath Basin.



Joe Watkins, executive director of the Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District, explains to Klamath County commissioners how water could flow through Klamath Project canals from Upper Klamath Lake to store in Clear Lake in the winter and spring.

  Supporters of the idea to use Clear Lake for water storage say it’s an option not previously looked at in other studies, like this one, for the Klamath Basin.




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