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Oregon State University Klamath Experiment Station field day
Klamath aquifer being depleted, river flows historic high, new crops and methods and adjudication discussed

August 5, 2004, KBC News.  Dr. Ken Rykbost, OSU Klamath Experiment Station Superintendent/Professor Emeritus, guided a group of over 40 people through a day packed with information. It began on a hayride, with scientists showing us their new crops and varieties and methods of testing. From testing varieties of potatoes, discovering methods of addressing crop diseases, and finding the ultimate drought-resistant varieties, the OSU staff gave us an overview of what they have been researching. 

Dr Ken Rykbost in potato research field

OSU Rodney Todd with Dr Doug Whitsett,
OR Senate Candidate

The agriculture community, including farmers, researchers, and fertilizer and disease-treatment businesses, have participated in these advanced experiments, trying to find crops and growing methods best suited for the Klamath Basin.  With the uncertain, fluctuating governmental Project operations the past few years, much effort has been put into testing drought-resistant plant varieties of certain crops. One field was a variety trial with over 30 different varieties of alfalfa in it. After the 2001 water shut off, all came back uniformly after they irrigated them. However the harvest was substantially less than if it had been irrigated.

Of 10 - 15 thousand new varieties of potatoes, they select 100 - 200 to continue studying. Many of the trials are with organic crops. Garbanzo beans and Oca plant from the Andes, orchard grass, and milkthistle, are some of the plants being grown to test suitability for here.

The Klamath Hay Growers Association hosted lunch. Amongst the group were our three Klamath County Commissioners, and Senate candidate Dr Doug Whitsett.  

Dave Sabo, BOR
Dave Sabo, Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) Klamath Office Director, discussed possible water storage, the Undepleted Natural Flow Study, and the 2004 Operations outlook.

Regarding the current water situation, Sabo said that last winter's snow pack was up 132% from average but the snow runoff was less.  It went from a 'low' water year to 'dry' in May.  "We ran a lot of water down the river, and if we'd known how the water situation would shape up, we wouldn't have done that."


Presently the Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) wells are shut down and many other wells are finished pumping. Sabo said that we will meet the BO's (biological opinions) for August and September.

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) will be meeting with National Marine Fishery Service about the 100,000 Acre Feet being demanded of the Irrigators to forgo in 2005. 

County Commissioner John Elliott asked Sabo about Long Lake and Round Lake water storage. Currently there is an economic and geological analysis taking place. Long Lake has enough fill to store water. Next month, Sabo said, there will be drilling to find out the storage capabilities. They are hoping to start appraisal level study next year. They can probably store easily 250,000 Acre Feet (AF) water, which could be done for less than 200 - 300 million dollars, much less money than has been spent for much smaller storage projects in California.

The BOR is still looking at Barnes Property for storage and habitat. They would like to flood and breach the dikes on these ranches that have been converted to wetlands so they adjoin Agency Lake.  Flooding Barnes Ranch for habitat will use, from evaporation, twice the amount of water that is used for irrigation and will possibly worsen water quality. This would be added to the 94,000 acres already converted from agricultural land into wetlands in the basin (for details go HERE). For a Barnes Property neighbor's assessment of Barnes for storage, go HERE. For more on water storage and Barnes articles, go HERE.

The BOR initiated the Undepleted Flow study, a study of the river flows before the Klamath Project was built.  Currently our flows are two to three times the amount of water compared to flows before the project was built.

Sabo said that Technical Services Center did the Undepleted Flow Studies, including even ground water going into Upper Klamath Lake.  The result is, when it's dry, in times below Keno, you may have seen only 100 cfs going down the river. "It's being reviewed at all levels now." There will be a technical meeting in early September, then submitted to the National Academy of Science for review, and it will be important for reconsultation. He hopes that reconsultation will be done at the start of 2006.

Currently we are operating on opinions based on Hardy Studies. Dr. Hardy  was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Justice to witness against the Klamath Irrigators in the adjudication. Hardy took the highest recorded river flows from after the Project was built (these elevated flows were not possible before the Project was built for irrigation) and made that the mandatory requirement of river flows. Peer review was not allowed. So if these river levels are not met, the Klamath Irrigation Project will be shut down again.  That is why the Department of the Interior is demanding the Klamath Project to be downsized by 2005 by 1/4 of the project's water called 'water bank', regardless of the annual hydrology. For the flaws in the Hardy Report, go to Klamath Watershed in Perspective. A review of historical hydrology of major features of the Klamath River Watershed and evaluation of Hardy Iron Gate Flow requirements by Dr. K.A. Rykbost.

Dr. Hardy has been rehired to complete Hardy 3, another report to control Klamath Project water. According to a  fish biologist, peer review is still currently being discouraged.

Luther Horsley asked Sabo, if more Upper Basin private land is bought by our government to be converted to "restoration storage' (swamp), does he (Sabo) support getting recognition for more restoration? He asked this since agriculture has supported government acquisition of 94,000 acres for supposed storage which has mostly been used for wetlands, yet no credit has gone to the agriculture community. More water has evaporated, diminishing the water availability and causing more water to be withheld from irrigators.

Sabo responded, "I can't guarantee anything from that regard."

Rick Woodley asked, "Do you have any sense of what that recovery is going to be?"

Sabo, "They (U S Fish and Wildlife Service) haven't done a recovery plan on suckers since 1994."..."There's plenty of suckers around.  I think if they were looking at the population of suckers today, they wouldn't be listed."





Reed Marbut, OWRD

Reed Marbut, Oregon Water Resource Department, said he was upset with a recent Herald and News editorial saying that the adjudication would take another 10 - 20 years. He said that it is 85% completed, and he hopes it will be done within a year. Most of the claims have been resolved or scheduled for litigation, except for contested cases involving the claims made by the US on behalf of the Klamath Tribes and by the Klamath Tribes on their own behalf,..."

He said that the Chiloquin Dam is the highest priority of the National Academy of Science, removing the dam and restoring the sucker habitat.  It's simple from an engineer's standpoint, and "We are in the water rights part."  Since Modoc Point Irrigation has a water right claim of the Dam's point of diversion, that delivery point must be changed, which is almost completed. Now it's up to the  BOR and BIA to figure out mechanically how to take the dam out.

Regarding groundwater, Marbut says we have options; we can use 100,000 AF groundwater yearly, or else we can use it when we need to.  He expressed concern that our aquifer is being mined---it is slowly being depleted.. A multiyear study is happening currently regarding what water is going in and out.

Ned Gates, OWRD hydrologist

Ned Gates, OWRD hydrologist, gave a slide presentation of well pumping related to static water levels. An example of aquifer depletion is with Luther Horsley's well.  In 1999 is was 68' water level. 2001, with the water shut off, empty canals and well pumping, the water level went to 82', a 15' drop.  2002, with no nearby groundwater pumping the aquifer recovered a little. In 2003, 37,000 AF water was pumped in the water bank and his well declined 15 - 20'. It was back up in spring. 2004 it was 86' deep yesterday, lower than ever, with the mandatory water bank groundwater pumping.

Dan Chin's well water level near midland was 43' in 2001 before the water shutoff and fell to 73'. In 2002 with normal water deliveries it rose to 48', even in the summer. 2003 with water bank pumping it fell to 70', and yesterday, August 4, it measured 77.33'.

Gates said the water levels appear to suggest that the water is all in the same aquifer, because water levels are declining  several miles from wells that are being pumped. Near Stateline TID wells, the water level dropped 45'.  On July 19th, within hours of the TID wells turning on, the water level dropped 13'. It recovered 2' in 2 weeks when the wells were turned off.

Gates said that, through cracks in rocks and geochemical sampling, it shows there is canal leekage getting into the lower aquifer.

Our aquifer is being reduced by three to four feet per year. "It is apparent, if we are going to keep going along at this pace, our groundwater is declining."

Responding to a question on whether the weather could be causing the decline, Gates replied that if it were weather we wouldn't have 15 - 20' peaks in declining water level right when wells began pumping.

He said that relaxing pumping stresses helps recover, but it isn't fully recovering.

Gates said that Mt Calvery Cemetery water level was measured in the 60's, and now it is the lowest water level ever recorded.

This year there were over 12 wells that went dry or became severely effected.

Marbutt added, "We are in a short term depleting the aquifer."

Also, because of increased well pumping, the low points in water levels are being reached sooner each year. 





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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