Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lost in the Klamath Deal swamp – The Lost River Basin

The Lost River Basin comprises about 20% of the total land area of the Klamath-Trinity River Basin. KlamBlog’s review of the proposed Klamath Water Deal indicates that – if that Deal is implemented as written – the Lost River Basin will be rendered an environmental and wildlife sacrifice zone.

The Lost River Basin is the area at the right center of the map straddling the Cal-Or line
Note all the surface water indicated in blue (Map courtesy of KRIS)
KlamBlog has also determined that, if the proposed Water Deal goes through as planned, it will be virtually impossible to reverse the sacrifice of Lost River Basin environmental and wildlife values. That is because the operative sacrifice provisions would be locked in via federal and state legislation already drafted as part of the proposed Water Deal.[1] While the Water Deal is not yet in final form, deal promoter Craig Tucker is reported in the press as stating with off-hand assurance that there will be no major changes from drafts previously released to the public.[2] Full text of the proposed Water Deal ( as well as the related Dam Deal) are available on line.

Some details of how the Lost River will become a sacrifice zone are presented below. The list is not complete. KlamBlog has not had the time, for example, to study proposed Oregon Legislation to determine if there are additional Lost River Sacrifice Zone provisions in that aspect of the proposed Deal or in the related Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) also known as the Dam Deal.

Historical Background:

In order to understand why and how the proposed Water Deal if adopted and implemented would render the Lost River Basin an environmental and wildlife sacrifice zone it is necessary to know a bit about the history of water development there.

The Lost River Basin was not always part of the Klamath River Basin. While water may have flowed from the Upper Klamath Basin to the Lost River Basin near Klamath Falls during extreme flood events, prior to the coming of white Europeans, the Lost River Basin was a completely self-contained basin with no surface outlet to any other water body.

We now know that Lost River Basin groundwater flows into and through volcanic tunnels. These full fledged rivers emerge to the South in the Fall River Valley. The streams then flow on the surface into the Pit River, a tributary of the Sacramento River. Water that originates in the Lost River Basin thus comprises a large part of the Pit River’s flow and a significant part of the water stored behind Shasta Dam near Redding, California.

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) changed the Lost River Basin in a manner that has made it an integral part of the Klamath River Basin. Beginning in 2005, the BOR began draining lakes and wetlands in the Upper Klamath and Lost River Basins to create irrigated farmlands. The main problem the BOR faced in this effort prior to the 1970s was too much water.

Each year water from Upper Klamath Lake and above flowed into the Lower Klamath Lake Area expanding the size of that vast waterbody. Likewise water from Clear Lake and the Lost River Basin uplands flowed into the then vast Tule Lake at the closed Basin’s lowest point.

In order to turn Lower Klamath Lake into farmland, the BOR used a railroad grade as a dike to prevent Upper Klamath Lake water from flowing into it. In order to turn Tule Lake into farmland the BOR first built the Lost River Diversion Canal and then a tunnel to pump “excess” water from the remnant Tule Lake (renamed a “Sump”) and through the Klamath Straits (renamed a “Drain”) to the Klamath River. In the absence of those facilities, the former Lower Klamath Lake and the former Tule Lake would flood – submerging the farmland the BOR had created and returning the land to lakes and marshes.

Because of the human manipulations described above, the Lost River Basin now consists not only of the lands actually in the Basin but also the lands to which Lost River and Klamath Project irrigation wastewater are now diverted and pumped. These include the Lower Klamath Lake, Klamath Straits and Keno Reservoir portions of the main Klamath River Basin. Most of the irrigation wastewater generated within the Klamath Project is collected in the remnant Tule Lake, pumped through Sheepy Ridge to Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and then dumped into the Keno Reservoir portion of the Klamath River via the Klamath Straits.

Sacrificed: Tule Lake and Lower Klamath NWRs:

Under the proposed Klamath Dam and Water Deals the Lost River Basin will be placed under the firm control of the so-called “On Project Irrigators” – the small group of wealthy irrigators KlamBlog calls the Irrigation Elite.

Section 15.1.2 of the Water Deal provides terms for the allocation and delivery of water to National Wildlife Refuges. Careful study of these terms reveals that water for the Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges will be under the control of the Irrigation Elite who can choose to dewater the refuges under specified conditions, i.e. when the Elite decides that there is insufficient water for irrigation by its members.

This section – as well as draft legislation included in the Water Deal’s appendices - also locks in commercial agriculture on the refuges and assures that these commercialized refuge lands will get water before the marshes and wetlands on which refuge waterfowl and other wildlife primarily depend.

Furthermore, this section provides that the Irrigation Elite can use Tule Lake and Lower Klamath refuges as their water treatment plant in order to meet obligations under the Clean Water Act. These well-off irrigators can also choose to supply the refuges with water “from other sources.” That would be the wells which the public gave these irrigators during the 2001 drought (California taxpayers) and under the $50 million Klamath EQIP provisions in the 2002 federal Farm Bill (federal taxpayers). The Irrigation Elite would – of course – want to be compensated by the government IF they choose to provide the refuges with water in this manner.

Sacrificed: Lost River Basin Groundwater

This member of the Irrigation Elite was protesting the first ever curtailment of water deliveries in 2001. Those who value the environment, fish and wildlife might take away a different meaning.

The Water Deal provides in section 15.2.4 for the protection of groundwater. This is necessary because – while the critical Drought Plan required by the Deal has intentionally not yet been written – it is clear to those who know the Basin’s water resources that it will be necessary to pump groundwater in order to meet the priority irrigation water allocation provided to the Irrigation Elite and also meet the minimum Klamath River flow needs of salmon and other fish during drought years.

Protection of groundwater is accomplished by monitoring a specified set of springs. If groundwater falls too low these springs will diminish or cease running. It is a good monitoring plan and it should be effective in preventing mining of groundwater in order to provide for irrigation and Klamath River flow.

Careful study of the Deal, however, reveals that all the springs which will be monitored are in or adjacent to the Klamath River. There will be no monitoring of springs in the Lost River Basin. But this is precisely where the US Geological Service is already on record that current levels of pumping are unsustainable, i.e. that the Irrigation Elite is already mining Lost River groundwater in order to market that water to (who else) the Bureau of Reclamation which then uses it to meet its ESA obligations without having to reduce irrigation deliveries.

This is one of the dirty little secrets of the Water Deal: Obscured by language protective of groundwater on the Klamath River side, the Deal would allow and even encourage the continued, unsustainable mining of Lost River Basin groundwater so that Klamath Project irrigation deliveries can continue at current levels and so that water for fish can be commoditized.

Sacrificed: Public Water Planning in the Lost River Basin

Section 15.2. of the Water Deal provides about a million dollars to the Irrigation Elite to develop an “On Project Water Plan”, that is, a plan to “align water supply and demand” for most lands within the federal Klamath Project. This section gives the Elite sole control of the planning and a million bucks to do it and only requires approval of the resulting plan by (you guessed it!) the Bureau of Reclamation – an agency which has never seen an irrigation proposal it did not like. This section of the Deal says groundwater will be protected but it defines impacts to groundwater so as to exclude impacts to Lost River Groundwater.
The Anderson-Rose Diversion Dam on the Lost River
This dam was built on top of the natural volcanic sill used by the Modoc Indians and by pioneers traveling the Applegate Trail
This section of the Water Deal creates a classic black box. Under its provisions, the Public will be excluded from water planning within the Lost River Basin. But the Public (taxpayers) will nevertheless pay so that the Irrigation Elite can plan the water future – including water commoditization and marketing – for 20% of the Klamath Basin, i.e. the entire Lost River Basin.

Sacrificed: Endangered Species in the Lost River Basin and Lower Klamath Lake Area
California legislation included in the proposed Water Deal (see section 23 and appendix A2) would provide the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) with the ability to allow the Irrigation Elite to “take” California fully protected species including but not limited to Kuptu and Tsuam (aka Lost River and Shortnose suckers), Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles.

Apologists for the Deal argue that this is simply extending the ability of CDFG to issue take permits as it does for other species – like Coho Salmon – which are listed under provisions of the California ESA but not “fully protected”. These apologists are correct; here’s the specific legislative language lawyers for the Irrigation Elite wrote into Appendix A2:

Section 2081.9 is added to the Fish and Game Code to read:
2081.9. (a) Notwithstanding Sections 5515 and 3511 and contingent upon the conditions set forth in (b) and (c), the department may authorize, under Chapter 1.5 (commencing with Section 2050) or Chapter 10 (commencing with Section 2800), the take of species in the Klamath River basin and those portions of the Tule Lake basin and Lost River basin that occur in California.
In other words, the Water Deal would provide the California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG) with the ability to do the sort of thing they are trying to do right now in the Shasta and Scott River portions of the Klamath River Basin. In the Shasta and Scott CDFG has decided to legalize the massive take of Coho Salmon which occurs each year via the dewatering of these key Klamath tributaries. That dewatering is occurring primarily as a result of a doubling of irrigation water consumption by irrigators since 1960.

The sort of mischief CDFG is engaged in on the Shasta and Scott would be exported under the Water Deal to the Lost River Basin and applied to the Irrigation Elite. Language added to the CDFG “take permit” program proposal at the behest of Scott River irrigators illustrates what this would lead to in the Lost River Basin:

"The Department will make every effort to work with Siskiyou Resource Conservation District and sub-permittee to correct or avoid such take [coho stranding] by some means other than reducing or ceasing the diversion and/or changing the timing or manner of the diversion."

Some promoters of the Water Deal are expected to be plaintiffs in litigation which will be filed soon to block CDFG from selling-out Coho on the Shasta and Scott. These individuals apparently do not believe that Kuptu, Tsuam and Bald Eagles are as important as Coho Salmon.

Based on its corrupt behavior on the Shasta and Scott, KlamBlog expects that CDFG will attempt to legalize take of Kuptu, Tsuam, Bald Eagles and other protected species by the Irrigation Elite in the following portions of the Lost River Basin IF the Water Deal and the California legislation included in that Deal is adopted and becomes law:

¨ Clear Lake: This natural lake is the source of the Lost River. It provides habitat for Kuptu and Tsuam as well as White Pelicans and other species.

¨ Lost River: Subject to channelization (straightening) by the Bureau of Reclamation, virtually every stick of vegetation has been removed from the banks of the Lost River. Nevertheless a few Kuptu and Tsuam are still found in the river.

¨ Tule Lake: The remnant Tule Lake is key habitat for Kuptu (Lost River Suckers). The "fully protected" status of Kuptu and Tsuam puts some limitations on the Irrigation Elite which use the remnant lake – aka Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge – as an agricultural sump and agricultural sewage pond.

¨ Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges: These refuges host and provide food for as many as 1,000 or more wintering Bald Eagles. Studies conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton Administration found that failure to provide these refuges with the water they need results in “take” of Bald Eagles. Eagles die when the refuges are dewatered because their main food source – ducks and geese – move down to the Central Valley and Salton Sea when the Klamath refuges are dewatered. The eagles, however, do not leave; they starve to death. Although this “take” is illegal under California law no environmental organization has yet filed suit to keep the refuges from being dewatered and thereby to save starving Bald Eagles.


KlamBlog has presented above information from the proposed Water Deal which we believe makes the case that those who support and promote the Deal are colluding to render the Lost River Basin an environmental and wildlife sacrifice zone. The conservation groups which have signaled that they are ready to endorse this abomination in the name of Klamath Dam removal include (in alphabetical order) the following organizations:
  • American Rivers
  • California Trout
  • National Center for Conservation Science and Policy
  • Northern California/Nevada Council Federation of Fly Fishers
  • Trout Unlimited.
KlamBlog invites representatives of these organizations to defend themselves here. We welcome their submission telling KlamBlog’s readers why they think the analysis above is in error or alternatively why they think it is OK to sell out one area and river in order to “save” another area or river.

Prayer Pole at Captain Jack's Stronghold, Lava Beds National Monument, Lost River Basin. The Stronghold looks north over what was once the vast Tule Lake and the Modoc Tribe's winter village. The area is now mostly farmland dominated by the Irrigation Elite

[1] Proposed federal and state legislation to implement the Klamath Deals has already been drafted. See Appendix E, G1, G2 and G3 of the proposed Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) – the Dam Deal; and Appendix A1. A2 and A3 of the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) – the Water Deal. Both are available at
[2] The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) Board of Directors voted over a year ago not to agree to any major changes to the Draft Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (the Water Deal). KWUA represents the Irrigation Elite in Klamath negotiations.

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