Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Matt St. John
Regional Water Quality Control Board
5550 Skylane Blvd Suite A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

From David and Jacqui Krizo

March 25, 2009

Comments on Draft Scoping for TMDL Implementation in the Klamath Basin:

Thank you for welcoming public input on your implementation plan to "restore water quality to the Klamath Basin." Since you told us at the Tulelake TMDL meeting you were not presenting science to us, “only policy,” it’s difficult to comment on how you should implement demands to clean our water when we don’t know what the science is that says how we are ruining the water quality.

As you heard at the Tulelake meeting, our water is naturally nutrient-laden. We know that to restore the historical water quality, you need to demand nothing in regulation because journals and reports say the historic water conditions were naturally “putrid.” I will begin by telling what we know about our historical water quality including links to several scientific reports, and then will discuss implementation.

Our Water Quality

In the fall of 1851, long before the Klamath Reclamation Project was built, George Gibbs accompanied an expedition of Colonel Redick McKee through the Klamath River and up the Scott River into Scott Valley.  Gibbs was a graduate of Harvard University and traveled West, when the California Gold Rush was in progress. George Gibbs’ Journal of Redick McKee’s Expedition Through Northwestern California in 1851. Gibbs reported the Klamath River was of poor quality.  In one entry, he said, “In camping on the Klamath, it is necessary to seek the neighborhood of the brooks, especially that this season; as the water, never pure, is now offensive from the number of dead salmon.”

Gail Whitsett earned her master’s in geology from Oregon State University and worked in oil exploration and development. Her studies showed that millions of tons of phosphorus-rich sediment at the bottom of Klamath Lake are actually derived from phosphorus- rich bedrock, naturally eroded from mountains surrounding the lake.

Her husband, a retired Klamath Basin veterinarian, Oregon Senator Doug Whitsett, said, “As cattle develop, they convert vegetative phosphorus into muscle and bone. Ranchers are being blamed for polluting the waters with phosphorus while the cattle above the lake are removing as much as 300 tons of phosphorus out of the Upper Klamath Basin each year. What they said the cattle were doing to the lake is impossible.”

Whitsett said the Clean Water Act process for establishing TMDLs for the Lost River has two basic flaws: Officials debate Lost River TMDLs, 6/29/07:

“The first flaw is that the Lost River is treated as a tributary to the Klamath River even though it was historically a land-locked river system. No background levels can be established for comparison with current nutrient and temperature loads because the current river flow as a tributary to the Klamath River did not exist historically.

“The second flaw is the assumption that certain predetermined water temperatures or nutrient concentrations are achievable in all streams. Those assumptions were not applicable to the Lost River before channel modifications due to very low river gradient and very high background levels of phosphorous, and they are certainly not applicable to the river after channel modifications.”

The following is a compilation of studies submitted by Klamath Water Users Association to the National Research Council, Historical Information on Klamath Watershed Hydrology and Water Quality in the Upper Klamath Basin October 3, 2006: http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/NRC/kwuaNRCcommentsfinal.pdf . In many cases, “natural background phosphorus sources are sufficient to support blue green algae in Klamath Lake, even if anthropogenic sources are eliminated.”

Please read the entire following report regarding nutrient loading:
NUTRIENT LOADING OF SURFACE WATERS IN THE UPPER KLAMATH BASIN: AGRICULTURAL AND NATURAL SOURCES, by Dr. K.A. Rykbost and B.A. Charlton. http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/waterquality/sr1023nutrientloadingRykbost101306.pdf .
for Dr. Rykbost biography HERE.

“Conclusions: In all cases where comparisons were possible, nutrient concentrations observed in water samples collected during the KES study are in general agreement with data reported in previous studies. This is true for samples from springs with relatively low nutrient concentrations, and for artesian wells that had high P concentrations. No evidence suggests errors in sample analyses or indicates major changes in nutrient status of water sources over the years covered by various studies.

Natural background sources feeding tributaries to Klamath Lake are enriched with P at their source. While drainage water from agricultural properties adjacent to Klamath Lake does contribute nutrients to the lake, some of these properties are irrigated with Klamath Lake water that is high in nutrients at the point of diversion. Previous studies that have not accounted for this have overestimated contributions from drainage of agricultural lands to nutrient loading of the lake.

Approximately 75 percent of water supplied to the KIP is diverted from Klamath Lake or Klamath River via the A Canal, North Canal, or ADY Canal. Estimates from sampling of these diversions in 1999 and 2000 indicate nutrient loading to KIP of approximately 180,000 lb P and 2 million lb N annually. Preliminary data from a University of California, Davis study KLAMATH BASIN NUTRIENT LOADING 14 estimates nutrient loading to the Klamath River from the outlet for the KIP at the Straits Drain of approximately 100,000 lb P. With no consideration for loading from other sources, the KIP appears to provide a net sink for nutrients diverted out of Klamath Lake. The nutrient contributions from two national wildlife refuges and two municipalities located within KIP are not well documented. However, drainage water from the majority of agricultural lands within KIP passes through and is retained in the refuges for extended periods during summer months. Some enrichment from natural processes and resident waterfowl in the refuges is likely.

Comparing P concentrations between the A Canal and diversions out of the Klamath River at North and ADY canals indicates some P enrichment occurs within the Klamath River above the Straits Drain. No attempt has been made in this study to determine the source of this loading. In assigning TMDL allocations for the Straits Drain, it is imperative that nutrients discharged to the Klamath River at this point are not considered wholly or in large part an agricultural contribution. High nutrient inputs to the KIP from Klamath Lake and Klamath River must be recognized as background sources beyond the control of agricultural interests.”


The Department of the Interior organized a science workshop in Klamath Falls February 3, 2004: http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/science/sciencewkshop020304.htm 

One speaker was Dr. William Lewis Jr., University of Colorado, Chairman of the National Research Council Committee on Threatened and Endangered Fishes in the Klamath River Basin.

Lewis was asked about making more wetlands for suckers, and he responded that there are 17,000 acres of restoration already. He cautioned that we shouldn't put too much faith into wetlands regarding the suppression of algae. Someone tried to compare algae bloom in Lake Washington.  Lewis said they got Lake Washington turned around by ceasing to pour 90% of the sewage into it. He added that we should not count on retiring agricultural land for saving suckers.  

Jacob Kann, ecologist and scientist for Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, insisted that timing and flows are related to the ph levels. Lewis responded that the water is always ph loaded, "the increase doesn't matter if it's always been saturated."

When asked if it would work to control the significant part of the ph load, Lewis responded that the lake is 140 square miles...that is not feasible to change.  It is not like Lake Washington where they had sewage to cut off.

To date, 97,160 acres north of the Klamath Reclamation Project of agricultural land have been acquired by Government agencies and The Nature Conservancy with the stated goal of improving water quality and quantity, and storage. With evaporation of this shallow warm water, the water quantity available to the Klamath Lake has decreased, and phosphorus level has increased. http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/fish/wetlandsFromAgLandsBartell.htm

Towards the first part of your Tulelake TMDL meeting, you said you were considering building a water treatment plant before we divert our water into the Klamath River, and also converting more agricultural land into wetlands.

Considering the vast amount of science proving that the sources feeding into our lakes and tributaries are mineral laden, and downsizing agriculture will not help water quality in our basin, and the river was historically “putrid,” we believe downsizing agriculture to create more wetlands is contrary not only to the science but it has not worked on nearly 100,000 acres already taken out of agriculture.

And considering the basin has invested millions of dollars into water conservation over the past few years and continues to do so, we do not feel you should take our land and water and issue permits to force us to purify water that historically was not pure.

David and Jacqui Krizo

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