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
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
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
$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
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
Indians drying suckers at Lost River. U.S. Bureau of
Ed Wakefield above the Link River.
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
1925: Potatoes and alfalfa become important Basin
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
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
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation The Link River
Dam in 1938.
Klamath Digital Waters Library/ Shaw
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
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
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
Scientists studying the lake begin to focus
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
Bald eagle. Upper Klamath Lake. H&N
photos by Andrew Mariman
Lost River sucker California Department of Fish and
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
The Klamath Crisis of 2001 February 2001:
Klamath Project officials warn farmers that a developing
drought may leave them without water.
Feb. 22, 2001:
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.
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
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
irrigating water. The judge also declares the Hardy
Phase I report the “best available science” for
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.
Canal headgates are partially opened in defiance of the
decision, beginning a summer-long protest effort at the
A Canal head gates. Klamath Tea Party on July 4 draws
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
Protesters open the headgates to the A Canal on July
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
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
April 2002: Environmental organizations bring
suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District
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
Over a period of several weeks, an estimated 70,000
salmon are found dead along the mouth of the Klamath,
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
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.
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.
PacifiCorp files application with the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission for new licenses for
hydroelectric facilities on the Klamath River.
Twenty-six groups, including state and federal
agencies, irrigators, fishermen, Indian tribes and
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.
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
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.