American Land Conservancy Klamath Basin Proposal

(Note: This is the organization that is working with Oregon legislators to purchase the Barnes Ranch for use as a summer water storage for the Klamath Irrigation District. While it is disconcerting to have a 'green' group involved in this project, having water available for agriculture and wildlife is the stated goal.)

The American Land Conservancy (ALC) proposes to rebalance the water system in the Klamath Basin to provide adequate, dependable water supplies to meet tribal commitments, fisheries, agricultural and wildlife needs. All of these users require an assured dependable supply -- none can exist without the assurance they will have sufficient water to meet their needs on a consistent basis.

Agriculture and wildlife refuges, in that order, are the lowest priority water users in the Klamath Basin. Hydrologic models based on the last 40 years of actual rainfall predict that 7 years out of 10 agriculture and wildlife will suffer water shortages. Irrigated agriculture cannot economically survive with such shortages and wildlife refuges must have water each year to serve their function. The system must be rebalanced to provide dependable supplies to these users.

ALC is specifically committed to providing sufficient water to allow the remaining agricultural sector in the Klamath Basin to have the water it needs to operate on a sustained basis.

The ALC proposal is divided into three elements:

Increased storage,

Reduced demand,

Cleaning up the water.

Increased Storage: Opportunities exist to increase supplies in the Klamath Basin by storing surplus winter waters. These flows are in excess of those mandated for tribal and fisheries needs. ALC proposes to acquire lands for storage of surplus winter water for project purposes.

In the upper basin, storage lands are available adjacent to Upper Klamath and Agency Lakes. These lands were diked and drained many years ago and are today as much as ten feet below lake level. The investment needed to utilize them is primarily land acquisition funds as the water control structures already exist.

Acquiring lands which were once part of the lake will not only provide winter storage of additional water for project use, it will reduce summer demand for irrigation water for row crops and pasture as well as reduce nutrient rich inflows to the lakes. The effect will be increased storage, reduced demand, cleaner water, and habitat for fish and waterfowl.

There are also opportunities outside the project which will allow new water to be stored and made available to the project. The Swan Valley could provide up to 100,000 acre feet of water annually which is not now part of the project. Using the Swan Valley for this purpose will also provide new habitat for wintering and migrating waterfowl.

In the Lower Klamath Basin the primary storage opportunity is the Southwest Sump, a 6500 acre block of refuge lands which is the lowest land in the system. Refuge management estimates the Southwest Sump will store as much as 65,000 gross acre feet of winter water in deep water habitat with 35-40,000 feet being usable after allowances for evaporation and residual water for fisheries habitat in the sump.

Refuge management believes using the Southwest Sump in this manner will allow the refuges to be taken "off line" during the critical summer irrigation system, removing the refuges from competition with agricultural for limited water supplies. Utilizing the Southwest sump for deep water habitat will require eliminating lease land farming on these lands.

Overall, ALC estimates as much as 200,000 acre feet plus of increased water supplies can be obtained by acquiring lands for storage and using the Southwest Sump for deep water habitat.

Reduced Demand: Concurrently with increasing supplies, ALC proposes to reduce demand for irrigation water through reductions in irrigated agriculture. Two means of reduction are proposed: purchase of fee title to lands within the project and relocating farming on the refuges to these lands; and purchasing water easements on project lands which preclude them from being irrigated using project waters.

Specifically we propose to acquire fee title to 22,000 acres of irrigated farmland in the Klamath Project to allow lease land farmers who want to remain in agriculture to do so. The sellers are people who wish to get out of farming and matching these two groups achieves a positive purpose for both.

We propose that the lands acquired be held in trust by a local entity, perhaps Tulelake Irrigation District, and that their leasing be continued for ten years in the same manner as it has been done in the past.

At the end of ten years, we propose that these lands be sold to private buyers, insuring they would remain private and not become part of the Federal estate. Holding these lands for ten years appears necessary as prospective buyers will need assurance the water system has really been rebalanced before they are willing to again buy land. The sales would be phased over time to prevent disrupting the market.

In addition to acquiring fee title to land, we propose to acquire water easements on 20,000 acres of land in the project and remove them from dependence on project water. Fee title to these lands would remain in private ownership and the lands could be dry farmed, farmed using well water or other storage water, but could not be irrigated from the Klamath Project.

By removing irrigated farming from the lease lands on the refuge and buying easements on another 20,000 acres of Klamath Project land, we estimate approximately 67,000 acre feet of demand reduction can take place.

The plight of farmers who have been shut off from water cannot be understated. Many are elderly and rely on leasing their lands for their only income. Action is needed soon to prevent these people from falling into bankruptcy and losing what for some is their only asset after a lifetime of work.

Cleaning up the water: Improving water quality and habitat for Endangered Species is the key to the recovery of the Upper Klamath Basin Ecosystem. In 1992, ALC purchased the 3000 acre Wood River Ranch. Since transferring ownership to the Bureau of Land Management, multiple partners have transformed this ranch into a functioning wetland, filtering the flow of the Wood River and removing nutrients. The river restoration project tested new construction techniques that will be applicable to other Upper Basin "in the wet" projects. In brief, Wood River Ranch provides the template for restoration of critical storage and wetlands around Upper Klamath Lake.

Any package from Congress should include up to $50,000,000.00 for acquisition and restoration of sensitive lands around the lake and in the Upper Basin. Fortunately, the basin is blessed with a number of local organizations active in restoration efforts. Watershed Councils, the Klamath Basin Ecosystem Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, the Hatfield Upper Basin Working Group, The Nature Conservancy, and several agricultural groups are all candidates for a portion of this funding to design and construct projects on both federal and private lands. Agricultural groups could be of particular help in designing and constructing wetland pods on private land to treat irrigation return flows.

Further efforts to clean up the water are needed in the Lower Basin. Water discharged from the Klamath Project at the Straits Drain is heavily laden with nitrates and phosphates. Fortunately an adjacent marsh, owned by a local duck club -- commonly known as "The Rat Club" -- could be used to filter these waters. Funding from Congress should include moneys for this purpose.

Finally, Lake Ewauna, the lake in the city of Klamath Falls which has been used for over 100 years as a log pond, suffers from extreme oxygen depletion. Fish cannot live in oxygen depleted water so Lake Ewauna needs to be cleared of woody debris which is soaking up oxygen and adjacent lands returned to their original marshland status.

Summary: The ALC proposal is intended to rebalance the water system to provide dependable supplies for all the users. Political solutions which fail to deal with the hydrology and do not provide reliable deliveries of water for all the interested users over the long run will not work. The Klamath Basin has existed too long with a water system which over committed water and resulted in severe ecological and economic damage. It is time to correct the deficiencies in the Klamath Project and rebalance the system.

Klamath River Basin

(Completed - 1,541 acres)

Through an innovative partnership with community leaders, local ranchers, and the Bureau of Land Management, efforts are under way to restore freshwater marshlands along the north shore of Upper Klamath Lake. ALC acquired and conveyed agricultural land to BLM for restoration to wetlands. These wetlands serve as natural filters, and improve degraded water quality in the Upper Klamath Lake Basin.