Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
- compare the costs
FOLLOWED BY: column by ONRC's Steve Pedery about Long Lake June 11.
More on Long Lake Storage go HERE
It isn't often that I find myself even in partial agreement with the Oregon Natural Resources Council, and that was again generally the case after I read the column by ONRC's Steve Pedery about Long Lake June 11.
However, parts of Pedery's treatise on Long Lake actually provide an important insight into costs associated with implementing measures that actually enhance water supplies in the Klamath Basin.
Pedery and other so-called “realists” advocate drowning more farmland - this time, Barnes Ranch on Upper Klamath Lake - over development of new, offstream deep storage such as Long Lake.
He justifies his position, in part, based on a per acre-foot cost estimates on the proposals.
Pedery claims that Barnes Ranch storage will cost $200 per acre-foot, based on an associated storage volume of 45,000 acre-feet.
It should be noted that this amount of water can only be provided in certain water year types, and with many other caveats that Pedery chose not to address.
In contrast, he concludes that Long Lake's “optimistic” storage costs would be roughly $1,300 per acre-foot.
While other information suggests that Pedery's Long Lake cost estimate is inflated, let's assume he's correct. In 2001, Pedery (then with WaterWatch), ONRC and other anti-farming interests floated a proposal to buy out “willing sellers” in the Tulelake area at $4,000 per acre.
That land generally consumes around 2 acre-feet per acre, and the theory here was that water previously used for irrigation would somehow be freed up and find its way to the Klamath River. Let's see - $4,000 per acre divided by 2 acre-ft per acre. That comes up to $2,000 per acre-foot of “new” water. This makes construction of Long Lake - even with Pedery's inflated cost estimate - look like a bargain in comparison. Pedery deserves our thanks for the reality check.
Keppen, Executive Director Family Farm Alliance,
It isn’t often that the Oregon Natural Resources Council finds itself in agreement with the Herald and News editorial page. However, your May 21 editorial on water storage correctly noted that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s water bank program is extremely expensive to taxpayers, and at best represents a stopgap fix for the Klamath Basin’s ongoing water woes.
Unfortunately, the editorial’s call for more money to be spent on the Long Lake Project missed the mark. The Long Lake scheme seeks to build a reservoir in an area that was the center of an earthquake in 1993, and currently does not hold water. The Long Lake Project would also require pumping water some 400 feet uphill from Upper Klamath Lake and over a steep ridge.
Realists have long known that the Long Lake is pie in the sky at best, and, at worst, a giant waste of tax dollars. Who would pay for the huge annual pumping costs of this project? Why should American taxpayers spend the half to three-quarter billion-dollar estimated price tag to build it in the first place?
Barnes Ranch better deal
For $9.1 million, it is estimated that the purchase of Barnes Ranch will increase natural wetland storage in Upper Klamath Lake by 45,000 acre-feet, or roughly $200 per acre-foot. In contrast, optimistic estimates indicate Long Lake storage would cost roughly $1,300 per acre-foot, excluding the sizable annual costs of pumping massive volumes of water uphill.
A better, cheaper, and more practical alternative is to invest in regaining some of the former natural water storage of the Klamath Basin. A good place to start would be the some 10,000 acres of drained lakebed and former wetland portions of Upper Klamath and Agency lakes — in addition to the 2,785-acre Barnes Ranch — that have been diked off and drained over the years.
The loss of these areas has reduced the overall water storage capacity in the watershed. By working with landowners to either purchase some of these lands at fair market value, or enroll them in long-term easements, we can restore natural water storage, expand wetlands and wildlife habitat, and improve water quality in a way that is both fair to tax payers and to farmers.
Another logical place to look for water storage in the Klamath Basin is Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. By ending the practice of leasing lands on the refuge for commercial agriculture that is of little or no benefit to wildlife, managers could once again manage the refuge as a lake and wetlands.
Doing so could allow up to 100,000 acre-feet of winter water to be retained there, providing water for refuge needs in dry months and taking pressure off of irrigation supplies. Besides costing a tiny fraction of the Long Lake proposal, ending the lease land program could also boost rental income to private landowners in the basin, by removing the unfair competition from the federal government.
If the Klamath Basin’s water woes are ever to be solved, it will require us all to get serious and make some hard choices. Unfortunately, Long Lake leads us away from the path of realistic, cost effective programs. The last thing the Klamath Basin needs is another expensive, ill-conceived water project that doesn’t work as advertised.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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