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Flooding more ag land

Water intended for drought year storage now has
'refuge' written all over it -- and more will be flooded.

Who's next?


Klamath Courier Report
April 20, 2005, Vol. 3, No.17

   To COMMENT go to bottom of this page for instructions.

Klamath Falls - It's a situation that makes hard core environmentalists
salivate, farmers and ranchers scream and agency officials run around in
circles.
   The scenario is this: the public was led to believe when Agency Lake
Ranch was flooded, it would provide 40 percent of the extra water needed
by the Klamath Basin in a drought year. When it was flooded, neighboring
Barnes Ranch went underwater as well. The government now wants to
purchase Barnes Ranch. Asking Price more than nine million dollars. But
it doesn't stop there. Flooding Barnes Ranch would flood neighboring
ranches as well.
   Where does it stop?
   The problem is that Agency Lake Ranch isn't storing the 40,000 to 50,000
acre-feet of water the public was led to believe, it stores 12,000
acre-feet ? and that's before evaporation.
   But now it is learned that the federal agencies aren't looking at this
as a solution for water storage for a draught year, as much as making a
new extended refuge.
   Plus, add into the mix the belief of some that this water will increase
in temperature and possibly a raised pH level, which would be less
healthy for the fish.
   The bottom line is that the community has a major conundrum on their
hands.

The solution or the problem?

   It was believed that Agency Lake Ranch would store 40 percent of the
extra water needed by the Klamath Basin in a drought year. The Bureau of
Reclamation bought the 7,123-acre ranch for water storage and quality.
There would be sucker screens, raised levees, and for only $5,000,000,
the bureau acquired this  "solution".
   Agency Lake Ranch near Fort Klamath would store between 40,000 to 50,000
acre-feet of water each year, Bob Davis, the planning division chief for
the BOR Klamath Falls office reported in 1998.
   This "solution," however, didn't pan out too well. By flooding Agency
Ranch, the neighboring 2,671-acre Barnes ranch got flooded too. And it
didn't store 40,000 to 50,000 acre-feet of water.
   Rich McIntyre, from the American Land Conservancy, claimed that federal
acquisition of the Barnes Ranch would store 50,000 acre-feet of water.
Recently the Bureau stated its plans to acquire this cattle ranch for
irrigation water storage.
   The Barnes have priced their ranch at $9,100,000.
   "The (Agency) ranch is operated as an off-stream storage site for about
12,000 acre-feet of winter and spring runoff water," according to an
April 5, 2005 bureau water report. This is the amount of water before
evaporation.

Fish and Wildlife is the 'natural owner' of Barnes Ranch

   Into the mix steps the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
   It is important to make full use of Agency Lake for water storage, said
Rae Olson, Klamath Basin area office Public Affairs Officer for Bureau
of Reclamation.  To do that the federal agency needs the Barnes Ranch,
she told the Klamath Courier.
   Fish and Wildlife is a "much more natural owner for this, because then
the full benefits of the habitat can be realized. If it were a "single
unit, between 30,000 and 50,000 acre-feet would be stored," Olson said.
"Increased habitat would be a benefit for suckers."
   It is her understanding that "we or they are going to breach dikes" into
Agency Lake.
   "The current plans are for Fish and Wildlife Service to open these
places for the refuge," Olson said.
   The suckers will reintroduce themselves, if you put breaches in those
dikes, according to Olson.
   "The recent announcement just confirms my original opinion of the Barnes
Ranch acquisition," said Klamath County Commissioner John Elliott. "It
was never intended to store water.  It was meant to be a refuge or at
very least 'habitat.' I was opposed then; I remain opposed."

Why Fish and Wildlife and the role of Nature Conservancy

   "This is a very high priority for the Bush Administration, the
Secretary's Office and therefore the Service," said Ron Cole, manager of
the Tulelake U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges, regarding his
agency's role in this project. "The Refuge System is the land management
division of the USFWS and is the only federal land management agency
with wildlife and wildlife oriented recreation and education as our
primary purpose."
   Efficiency in government is also a primary goal of the Administration,
so placing both Agency Lake Ranch and the Barnes property within the
Refuge System makes sense, Cole said.
   The Nature Conservancy has been involved in the negotiations, along with
high level Interior officials, according to Cole.
   "Opening up Agency Lake Ranch to the natural levels of the lake will
allow Agency Lake Ranch lands to fill in times of normal or higher than
normal runoff, expanding the holding capacity of the lake," Cole told
the Klamath Courier. "If these lands are allowed to be inundated with
water, the overall capacity of lake storage is increased."
   Plus, flooding these lands will create emergent marsh habitat that can
benefit young sucker survival, Cole believes and restoring the emergent
marsh around the lake can increase the filtration capability of the lake
and help improve water quality.
   "We have a window of opportunity under this proposal to craft something
that ensures the kind of certainty we all want to sustain farms,
refuges, fisheries, ranches, and our communities," said Cole.

There's more water from ag than wetlands
   Upper basin irrigator Edward Bartell documented that the U.S. government
has already bought and converted over 94,539 acres of agricultural land
to wetlands in the Upper Klamath Basin. One of his concerns is that
wetlands use over twice as much water as agricultural lands because of
the "sponge effect," and evaporation.
   "There's been a dramatic decrease in flow," said Bartell. "Where is the
water going to come from?"
   He explained how, with 100,000 acres taken out of ag land, over 100,000
acre-feet of water is being lost to the lake.
   "You need to monitor the water; there is no available data," he said.
   "Ag is not depleting the flow."

Wood River goals not achieved - and now this


   The Wood River acquisition was in the same vicinity as Barnes and
Agency.
   John Crawford, Wood River committee member and Project farmer, said that
the goals for Wood River Ranch, in 1993, were: improve water quality
with wetland filtration; monitor those lands extensively to prove water
quality by wetland filtration; additional storage; improved habitat for
suckers; and allow no net loss of private land.
   "None of these goals were achieved," said Crawford.
   These are falling dominos, according to Bill Kennedy, Upper Basin and
Project irrigator and former President of Family Farm Alliance.
   "Wood River Ranch was first, Tulana second, Agency third, and Barnes is
the fourth," said Kennedy. "I don't know how many dominoes there are."
   Kennedy is concerned that when Agency Ranch was purchased, nothing was
said that it would inundate Barnes. Now, nothing is said about the other
neighboring properties that will be flooded.
   "That should be a  pretty easy way to make willing sellers out of the
neighbors," said Kennedy.
   It doesn't make sense to him that the Bureau is drying up 30,000 acres
of wildlife habitat found in farmland because of the mandatory "water
bank," where irrigators must forego 100,000 acre-feet of their stored
water to send down the river.  At the same time they are trying to buy
2,671 acres for "habitat."
   Fish and Wildlife doesn't even have an operation plan for the refuges
that they now own and operate, Kennedy believes.

Cattle were run out


   A 1998 Farm Bureau article stated that eight thousand cattle were run on
the Agency Lake Ranch prior to the Bureau's acquisition of the property.
The ranchers "raised concerns that the impact to the ranching families
in not being considered."
   Kennedy said that decimating the cattle industry is affecting interstate
and international commerce.
   "Other places don't have the production capability as Klamath Basin.
There is impact in California, Nevada, Washington, all the way to Iowa,"
and they export internationally, Kennedy said.  "Because here the cattle
gain three to four pounds per day."
   The Klamath Basin and New Meadows, Idaho are the best in the nation, he
said.
   "The bureau and Fish and Wildlife have taken a great opportunity to be
progressive and forthright in their communications, and instead relied
upon the local media to inform the ag community of this new direction,"
said Kennedy.

Klamath Lake suckers and pH levels

   Dr William Lewis Jr., University of Colorado, Chairman of the National
Research Council, addressed water quality, land acquisition, and sucker
habitat at a Klamath science workshop in 2004. Lewis explained that the
suckers were listed since 1988 because of over harvest. They stopped
fishing in 1987 but suckers did not recover. The lake has gone from 3
foot range under natural conditions to experiencing 6 feet deep in
current dry years.
   He said that "there was no relationship between lower water levels and
extreme pH levels," and Klamath Lake was always pH loaded.
   "The increase doesn't matter if it's always been saturated," he said.
   Klamath Lake is so large, that these restoration projects will not help
the water quality of the lake, according to Lewis.
   He explained that Clear Lake does not have the habitat that scientists
are trying to create in the Upper Basin for suckers, yet Clear Lake has
stable populations of healthy suckers. Lewis was asked about making more
wetlands for suckers, and he responded that there are 17,000 acres of
restoration already. He cautioned how much faith we should put into
wetlands regarding the suppression of algae. He said we should not count
on retiring agricultural land for saving suckers.
   Yet, Lewis' scientific conclusions seem to conflict with reasoning in
the Fish and Wildlife April update.
   "Restoring these properties to lake and emergent wetlands would
reestablish the vital role that the marshes serve in filtering nutrients
and providing essential habitat for larval and juvenile suckers," the
Fish and Wildlife update states. "Reconnecting Agency Lake to Upper
Klamath Lake could also improve water quality in Upper Klamath Lake and
possible the main stem of the Klamath River."

Evaporation: Poof, the water's gone

   "We might get 2 feet on the 2400 acres, which is less than 5000 acre
feet," said Paul Little, a neighbor of Barnes. "Most of that would
evaporate."
   "If they're trying to store 50,000 acre feet on the Barnes property they
would have to have a 25 foot levee."
   When Barnes is flooded, it floods several adjoining lands, according to
Little.
   "They can make swamp out of it, but they aren't going to store water on
it," he said.
Comments are due by May 13. You can send comments or requests for
planning information to: Richard Smith, Natural Resource Specialist,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2800 Cottage Way, Suite W-1916,
Sacramento, CA 95825, Phone: (916) 414-6502. On the web see refuge
planning website: http://pacific.fws.gov/planning
 

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