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‘Good science’ casts doubt on blame laid on Basin farms

   The “good science, bad science” debate has been going on for about as long as there have been water conflicts in the Klamath Basin.
   It was a major point in the irrigation water cutoff on the Klamath Reclamation Project in 2001 and the fish die-off on the lower Klamath River a year later.
   The science issue has made its way through state and federal agencies and endless court cases. And now a point that local farmers and ranchers have contended for years has gotten some additional scientific support.
   Recent studies by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries say there’s a higher than normal amount of naturally occurring phosphorous in Upper Klamath Lake, where the Klamath River begins. (Officially, the river begins at Lake Ewauna, which is connected to Upper Klamath Lake by the Link River.)
   Phosphorus generally is regarded as a pollutant, and the blame for its high level is usually put on fertilizer and livestock manure from farmers’ and ranchers’ fields in the Upper Klamath Basin.
   Ian Madin, chief scientist for the department, however, questions how accurate that claim is and how much value there is in efforts to reduce fertilizer use and ranching to decrease phosphorous in the water.
   “Some of the impact of phosphorous is natural,” Madin said. “If a large percentage is natural and farmers are not allowed to use phosphorous, it could have no impact on the water quality, but could be detrimental to farmers.”

Not a new issue    

The phosphorus found in the local area is about 10 times that found elsewhere.

   The issue of how much phosphorous occurs naturally has come up before. A few years ago, for example, State Sen. Doug Whitsett raised it in a Herald and News commentary that challenged the value of shallow water storage in the Klamath Basin.
   When it comes to water storage, deep impoundments, such as the Long Lake proposal under study by the Bureau of Reclamation (endlessly, it seems) constitute the gold standard. Shallow ones lose far more of their water to evaporation because of their large surface area. The water is also more exposed to phosphorous-bearing soil and peat. The Basin has no deep-water reservoirs.
   There’s always debate about the “science” involved in water issues, and “whose” science is good and whose is bad.
   Something people have learned about such things is that they’re complex, and that no matter how much we know, there’s more to learn.
   The state’s geologic studies may have filled in one of the gaps. It’s welcome to have a piece of “good” science that says that Upper Basin agriculture may not be the bogeyman it’s frequently made out to be.
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