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Klamath Project Timeline 1882-2008
Herald and News 2/15/08


 1882: Farmers begin irrigating in the Klamath Basin. The Linkville Water Ditch Company is incorporated and a shallow canal is dug connecting Linkville (Klamath Falls) town lots to Link River above present day Klamath Falls. 

   During the early days, homesteaders near Bonanza begin using native fish called suckers for fertilizer and oil. They attempt to get laws passed to prevent American Indians, who have fished for suckers for centuries, from catching them. 

1887: Charles and Rufus Moore excavate a canal on the west side of the Link River to furnish power to a sawmill and float logs down from Upper Klamath Lake. The brothers build a second canal to irrigate gardens and orchards in west Klamath Falls.
May 15, 1905:
After Oregon, California and the U.S. enact necessary legislation, Secretary of Interior Ethan Hitchcock authorizes
$4.4 million to build the Klamath Project. The government immediately allocates $1 million to begin construction. 

1906: Using horse teams, construction begins on the A Canal. Construction on the headworks is completed by June 1907. Work begins on the East Branch (B) Canal and Keno Power Canal. A levee is constructed by an agreement between Reclamation and the California and Northeastern Railway, paralleling the present Highway 97 south of Klamath Falls. 

1908: President Teddy Roosevelt establishes the Lower Klamath National
Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first waterfowl refuge. Construction begins on the South Branch (C) Canal. The canal requires a 4,300-foot flume across the Lost River slough. In September, excavation begins on Clear Lake Dam. Dikes are built to the south of the dam to retain floodwaters.

Indians drying suckers at Lost River. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation                             Ed Wakefield above the Link River.

 Building the A Canal.
1911: Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge is established. Construction begins on the Lost River Diversion Dam and Lost River Diversion Channel.

Construction begins on the Link River Dam July 29 at the mouth of Upper Klamath Lake.
Construction begins on the Lower Lost River Diversion Dam (Anderson-Rose Dam) and the J Canal to serve the Tulelake area. 

1922: Homestead entries are opened to World War I veterans. Work begins on the Malone Dam. 

1924: Construction begins on the Miller Diversion Dam, Gerber Dam and North Canal in Langell Valley. 

1925: Potatoes and alfalfa become important Basin crops. 

1928: Tule Lake and Upper Klamath national wildlife refuges are established. 

1935: In the 1920s and ’30s, Reclamation widens and lines existing canals, replaces the C Canal wooden flume with a concrete one, and expands and modifies Clear Lake Dam.
Construction begins on the Tule Lake diversion with the P and P-1 Canals. Workers begin the Sheepy Ridge Tunnel, a 6,600-foot east-west culvert that drains Tule Lake into lower Klamath Lake. 

   Pumping plant D is built to lift water from Tule Lake into the tunnel. With World War II, armed guards are stationed at project facilities and the Army selects the area for an internment camp. Housing for up to 16,000 Japanese-American citizens is constructed. Some German prisoners of war are also located at a site northwest of Tule Lake. They are put to work clearing moss from canals.

The Klamath Forest National Wildlife Refuge is established.
Iron Gate Dam is built on the Klamath River. A hatchery is built in conjunction with the dam for mitigation purposes and remains a main provider of salmon into the river system.
          U.S. Bureau of Reclamation The Link River Dam in 1938.           Klamath Digital Waters Library/ Shaw Historical Library
                                                                                                          A crowd gathers in Tulelake to welcome new citizens
                                                                                                                  at a 1946 land opening.           
1964: Passage of the Kuchel Act ends homesteading and dedicates the remaining Project acres to “the major purpose of waterfowl management ...” The law enrolls 17,000 acres on Tule Lake refuge and 5,000 acres on Lower Klamath refuge in a lease program for farming.

Oregon begins to adjudicate Klamath River water rights. 

1978: The bald eagle is declared a threatened species on Feb. 14. Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge established to protect bald eagle roost sites. 

1988: The Lost River and shortnose suckers are declared endangered species on July 18. 

1992: A drought focuses attention on the role of lake levels in protecting sucker habitat. The wildlife service recommends Upper Klamath Lake be kept above a minimum elevation of 4,139 feet during summer months, although it allowed that the lake could drop to as low as 4,137 feet in four out of 10 years.
Final recovery plan for suckers is approved by the wildlife service in April. 

1994: A second drought hits the Klamath Basin. The surface elevation of Upper Klamath Lake falls to 4,136.86 on Sept. 27, the lowest level since records began in 1905. With salmon stocks dwindling, commercial fishing for coho salmon is halted from Washington to California.

Large numbers of suckers die in a series of fish kills.
Reclamation agrees to meet minimum instream flows below Iron Gate Dam to protect habitat for anadromous fish (fish that move from salt water to freshwater). 

Scientists studying the lake begin to focus on the roles of algae, nutrients, temperature, ammonia and alkalinity in triggering periodic die-offs of suckers. 

An Interior Department solicitor publishes a legal opinion that water for Native American tribal trust obligations and endangered species take precedence over deliveries of irrigation water to farmers and wildlife refuges.
     Bald eagle. Upper Klamath Lake. H&N photos by Andrew Mariman

Lost River sucker California Department of Fish and Wildlife
1997: Coho salmon are listed as a threatened species on June 6.

Critical habitat is defined for the coho. On July 12, a biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service concludes Project operations would affect, but not likely jeopardize, coho. A controversial study by Thomas Hardy, a Utah State University hydrologist, is published in the fall. 

It calls for instream flows to protect the fish far higher than those set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or those agreed to by Reclamation in 1996. 

2000: At a conference of environmental groups and wildlife refuge officials, a small group of Klamath Project farmers announce they are willing to sell as much as 30,000 acres of farm land, following four years of profitless operations. The farmers represent 3 percent of the 1,500 project farmers.

The Klamath Crisis of 2001 February 2001:

Klamath Project officials warn farmers that a developing drought may leave them without water.

Feb. 22, 2001:
Federal officials declare a drought.
March 1, 2001:
Bureau of Reclamation Area Office Manager Karl Wirkus announces irrigating water may not be available.
March 9, 2001:
More than 400 project farmers stage a massive rally at the Bureau of Reclamation offices. Environmentalists file notice they will sue if water is diverted to farms.
March 13, 2001:
A new biological opinion from the wildlife service calls for a minimum elevation in Upper Klamath Lake of 4,140.0 feet above sea level to protect suckers.
H&N file

An American flag flies upside down at the A Canal headgates in 2001.



H&N file photo by Gary Thain, The Bucket Brigade lines up on Main Street in 2001

March 26, 2001: Federal officials meet in Klamath Falls to explain the science behind the biological opinions. Refuge managers begin making contingency plans to address a water cut-off.

March 29, 2001:
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber declares a drought and asks the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to provide emergency aid.
March 30, 2001:
U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon asks President Bush to help resolve the dilemma.
March 31, 2001:
The Klamath Project’s 2000 operating plan expires.
April 4, 2001:
A district court judge rules the Klamath Project is in violation of the Endangered Species Act and cannot deliver irrigating water. The judge also declares the Hardy Phase I report the “best available science” for protecting coho.
April 6, 2001:
The Department of Interior announces that no irrigation water will be available from Upper Klamath Lake. A compromise lake elevation is arrived at to protect sucker habitat and provide sufficient water for salmon. Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir are tapped for 70,000 acre-feet of water for farmers in Langell Valley and Horsefly irrigation districts. The Department of Agriculture approves emergency aid for the Project’s 1,500 farmers.
July 2001:
Canal headgates are partially opened in defiance of the April 6 decision, beginning a summer-long protest effort at the A Canal head gates. Klamath Tea Party on July 4 draws national attention.
Aug. 21, 2001:
“Klamath Bucket Brigade” draws more than 15,000 people and national media attention. Homesteader Jess Prosser fills the first bucket.
Sept. 6, 2001:
Interior Secretary Gale Norton announces cooperative effort to free additional water for the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.
Sept. 11, 2001:
Headgates protesters voluntarily agree to end their vigil out of respect for the nation’s pressing security issues.
Protesters open the headgates to the A Canal on July 4, 2001.
H&N file Farmers and supporters stand arm-in-arm at the headgates to the A Canal in Klamath Falls on July 4, 2001.




Oct. 11, 2001: Klamath Basin farmers file a new lawsuit against the federal government claiming the cutoff of irrigation water amounted to a seizure of private property worth $1 billion.

January 2002:
Reclamation and fishery agencies begin to develop a new 10-year Klamath Project operations plan. Assistant Interior Secretary Bennett Raley and Reclamation Commissioner John Keys ask the Klamath Water Users Association to create a “water bank.” Water users begin the first of nearly 40 meetings about the bank, which compensates Project irrigators for pumping groundwater and idling land to leave Project water in the Klamath River. 

February 2002: National Academy of Sciences interim report is released. It questions the science that led to high lake levels and downstream fish flow requirements in the 2001 Klamath Project operations plan. 

April 2002: Environmental organizations bring suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California claiming Reclamation is in procedural violation of the Endangered Species Act with respect to coho salmon. They seek a temporary restraining order to preclude irrigation diversions. The request is denied in May. 

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman show up at the A Canal headgates to mark the beginning of the irrigation season.
September 2002:
Over a period of several weeks, an estimated 70,000 salmon are found dead along the mouth of the Klamath, spurring controversy.
October 2002:
National Marine Fisheries Service biologist Michael Kelly alleges violations and gross mismanagement by agency employees during the 2002 formal consultation on Klamath Project operations with the Bureau of Reclamation. Kelly files for protection under the federal Whistleblower Act. (In March 2003, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel determines the allegations do not warrant further investigation and closes the case.)
Downstream Klamath River tribes gather in October 2002 at the Klamath Falls office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to protest a salmon die-off on the Klamath River.
H&N file photos Farming the Basin in 2003.

Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, attended a ceremony opening the A Canal headgates in March 2002.


June 2003: Conflicting requirements of “dueling biological opinions” leads to a near shutdown of the Klamath Project to avoid dropping Upper Klamath Lake 0.1 feet below the Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion.

October 2003:
National Academy of Sciences National Research Council Committee on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath Basin releases final report: 1. The recovery of endangered suckers and threatened coho salmon cannot be achieved by actions exclusively or primarily focused on the Project operation; 2. No evidence of a causal connection between Upper Klamath Lake water levels and sucker health, or that higher Klamath River flows help coho; 3. No evidence that Project operations caused the 2002 fish die-off or that changes would have prevented it.
March 2004:
PacifiCorp files application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for new licenses for hydroelectric facilities on the Klamath River.
June 2005:
Twenty-six groups, including state and federal agencies, irrigators, fishermen, Indian tribes and environmental organizations, begin settlement discussions.
April 2006: Fifty-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license expires for the Klamath Hydroelectric Project, which consists of seven hydroelectric developments on the upper Klamath River and one tributary hydroelectric development. The project will operate on annual licenses until a new FERC order on re-licensing. The Oregon Public Utility Commission issues a decision to ramp up rates over seven years.
August 2006:
U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez declares a commercial fishery failure for West Coast salmon fishermen from Cape Falcon, Ore., to Point Sur, Calif.
January 15, 2008:
After more than two years of closed discussions, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is released. Twenty-six stakeholders representing various groups, including Klamath Project water users, tribes, environmentalists and state and federal agencies are involved.
Support is dependant on the removal of four dams along the Klamath River, something not agreed to by PacifiCorp.
Bob Gasser makes a point to commercial fishermen about the Klamath Irrigation Project with Upper Klamath Lake in the background during a 2006 tour.

Dan Bennetts, a fishery biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, releases endangered suckers into Upper Klamath Lake in 2003.


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