Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Irrigation water leaves Klamath Project cleaner, colder than it comes in
Felice Pace is once again making unsupported claims concerning Klamath Basin water issues in his May 24 commentary in the Herald and News.
First, Pace claims that the Klamath Project’s run-off water is not clearer and colder than water that comes out of Lake Ewauna.
When the statement was made that the water was cleaner and colder at the end of the Klamath Project, the reference was to the water at the end of Tulelake Irrigation District. At that point the water goes in to the Tulelake Wildlife Refuge, then to the Lower Klamath Refuge, than passes through to the Klamath River.
In 1995, a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided funding to University of California, Davis and Intermountain Research and Extension Center for an important local project: An Assessment of the Effects of Agriculture on Water Quality in The Tulelake Region of California. This study analyzed the effects of agriculture on water quality in the Klamath Basin. Guess what? The study determined that the water was cleaner after leaving agricultural lands than it had been in Upper Klamath Lake.
Naturally occurring phosphate in Upper Klamath Lake (meaning not from any agricultural source) is high. After the water is used and recirculated in the Klamath Project there is less phosphate loading in the run-off water than in Klamath Lake water because crops use phosphate for growth.
Additionally, an intensive monitoring effort conducted cooperatively by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Geological Survey determined that no pesticides in current use have been detected in amounts of toxicological significance in waters in the Tulelake Irrigation District or in the Tulelake Wildlife Refuge. That also holds true for fertilizer residue.
Effective efficiency 93 percent
According to a study conducted by Davids Engineering (“Klamath Project Historical Water Use Analysis”) in 1998, the effective efficiency for the overall Project is 93 percent, making the Klamath Project one of the most efficient in the country. Basically this means that only 7 percent of the Project water is not utilized in a beneficial way for crops.
That unusually high rating is possible due in part to a complex drainage system and recycling of water. It is interesting that Felice Pace claims that the drains and tile drains should not be there. When a farmer irrigates his crops, the extra water the plant does not need percolates through the soil, hits a hard pan and goes to a drain ditch. Another farmer uses that extra water farther down the ditch. This bonus water will be reused seven to nine times in the Klamath Project. It is ludicrous for Pace to assert that there should not be any drains. In his scenario, two things would happen. The highly regarded efficiency evaluation would drop significantly, and there would be less water in the Klamath River.
Contrary to Pace’s allegations — the Klamath Project does not have a pollution problem. Water quality issues occur outside the Project boundaries.
If the water at Klamath Straits prior to entering the Klamath River has higher nutrient loading and warmer temperatures then perhaps one should investigate what is happening between Tulelake Irrigation District borders and Straits Drain.
First, the run-off water from the Klamath Project goes into 10,500 acres of shallow open water (permanent wet land) and 2,500 acres of hardstem bulrush and cattail marsh — Tulelake Wildlife Refuge. Then the water moves on to Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge consisting of 11,201 acres of permanent wetlands and 10,023 acres of seasonal marshes.
The run-off from these two refuges goes through Straits Drain to Klamath River. It only takes common sense to recognize why the water is hotter after languishing in thousands of acres of shallow wetlands and seasonal marshes while decaying tules and abundant waterfowl feces significantly increase the nutrient load. Is this a bad thing? The answer is yes — and no. Of course one wishes the water at Straits Drain was cooler and less loaded with nutrients. But undoubtedly, the benefits of the wildlife refuges far outweigh the negatives.
However, Pace asserts that if Project farmers would build more marshes, all the water would be cleaner and colder. If that were true, then the water in Straits Drain following its path through the 34,224 acres of refuges would be nearly pristine. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As proven by the UC Davis study, the water quality is better at the tail end of the Klamath Project before it enters the wetlands.
Visit, take a look
I invite Pace to come on a personal tour of the Klamath Project.
We have taken hundreds of interested parties on tours to give them a first hand look at the value of the Project and the dozens of completed tasks which are making true progress in improving the Klamath Basin portion of the vast Klamath River system.
All who visit come away with increased knowledge and new perspectives. We have nothing to hide and everything to gain by educating the public.
It is apparent that Pace will continue to spread misinformation to the general public in order to stir discontent and generate funding to pay his wages. If he doesn’t have a cause (real or imagined) to fight, he won’t have a job. It is distressing that donated funds aren’t spent to help improve the Klamath River System instead of paying Pace’s wages and lawyer fees.
Water in bad shape when it leaves Project - but can be improved
May 24, 2006,Herald and News by Felice Pace, Guest commentator
The Herald and News editorial board treats assertions and press releases from the Klamath Water Users Association as gospel. In contrast, even peer-reviewed scientific reports indicating that Klamath Reclamation Project operations damage the environment and downstream interests are treated with skepticism.
Klamath Project water users are sacred cows at the H&N. Like cows in Hindu India, these sacred cows can do what they please without fear of criticism by the Upper Basin's only daily newspaper.
The latest blind assertions appeared in editorials April 16 and May 7.
In the editorial “Power rates are part of the big picture,” Opinion Editor Pat Bushey, Editor Steve Miller and Publisher Heidi Wright claim water used by irrigators is “returned to the Klamath River cleaner and colder than it was when it was taken from Upper Klamath Lake.” The assertion is repeated in, “Don't put onus on Project for saving salmon,” which claimed that in 2005, Project irrigators were “returning water to the river cleaner and colder than it was when it was taken out.”
If the last assertion is true, it would be the first year in decades that water returned to the river through the Klamath Straits was cleaner than the receiving water.
In its water bank, the Bureau of Reclamation uses taxpayer funds to buy water from the Tule Lake Irrigation District wells (wells paid for by California taxpayers).
If the Bureau moves that water through the Straits to meet downstream flow requirements, that water could be cleaner than the waters of Lake Ewauna for a month or two of the year.
The usual situation is a stark contrast to that possibility. Lake Ewauna water quality is bad. Poor quality water flowing from Link River Dam is worsened by the manner Columbia Plywood operates. Years of storing logs in the Lake resulted in a massive amount of bark on the lake bottom. As it decomposes, bark sucks oxygen from the water. The result is water which often does not contain enough oxygen for fish to survive.
The Klamath Straits enters Lake Ewauna farther downstream. The Straits carries most of the wastewater from the Project except the water which is consumed. If KWUA's claim - also repeated as gospel by H&N editors - that irrigation only consumes 3 percent of the water diverted - it must be true that 97 percent of the diverted water is returned to the river.
So what is the quality of the agricultural waste water returned to the Klamath River via the Straits? According to the Oregon Department of Water Quality, that water contains excessive nutrients, has excessively high temperatures and high pH. The polluted nature of Klamath Straits water is confirmed by the Bureau's monitoring reports. These are available to the H&N editors.
It's usually worse
These reports confirm that Straits water is ordinarily of significantly poorer quality than Lake Ewauna water. During the critical late-summer period, the Straits represents about 25 percent of the flow in this stretch of river. At this time of year, Straits water quality is sometimes so bad the pollution is transformed into pure ammonia - toxic to all aquatic life. Ironically, this most highly polluted water looks crystal clear - one reason H&N editors may have been duped into believing it is of good quality.
Project water flowing through the Klamath Straits to the river was not always so bad.
In the 1960s and 1970s, tile drains were installed in the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath areas. This increased crop yield by facilitating rapid movement of water, fertilizer and pesticides through the soil. Water use jumped dramatically, as did levels of nutrient pollution as fertilizers and natural nutrients leached rapidly through soil into the drains. Water use and pollution increased so much that the Bureau had to put another set of pumps on the Klamath Straits to handle the increase in agricultural waste water.
There is good news on water quality within the Project, however.
In preparing for clean-up plans for the Lost River and Klamath Straits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been studying the impact of refuge wetlands on quality. It found that permanent marshes on Lower Klamath refuge significantly clean the water they receive. Seasonal marshes also clean water - but not as well.
These studies suggest how the Project could improve the quality of the water it uses and returns to the Straits and Klamath River. Filling in the deep drains would have a significant positive impact and reduce Project water use without reducing acres farmed. Alternatively, using settling ponds before returning water to streams can remove up to 50 percent of the nutrients; passing the water through a permanent marsh could reduce nutrient pollution - the Project's largest pollution problem - up to 90 percent.
These techniques are used successfully in many areas, including nearby in the Shasta Valley. If applied within the Upper Basin, it would be entirely feasible for the Klamath Project and other Upper Basin agricultural operations to come into compliance with water quality standards. These standards were established to protect all beneficial uses of water, as well as the public's interest in clean water.
Cleaning up Project pollution would pay numerous benefits, not only downstream but in the Upper Basin. For example, cleaner water likely would reduce avian botulism. This would bring more duck hunters and bird watchers. The technology is simple and practical. All that is needed is the will to do it. Unfortunately, the Klamath Water Users Association's insistence that no land in the Project currently farmed be turned into treatment marsh precludes such solutions.
Will Klamath Project compliance with the Clean Water Act become the Upper Basin's next divisive crisis? So long as H&N editors and government bureaucrats treat the Project as a sacred cow, and KWUA as all knowing, it is unlikely that the irrigation aristocracy which runs the KWUA and dominates the Project will modify its position. H&N editors should stop repeating association's assertions as fact and demand responsible behavior from all players in the Klamath Basin.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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