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Over 70 Years of Representing the Farmers and Ranchers of Klamath Project

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Tri-Counties Leadership Tours the Project

May 16, 2024

Siskiyou, Modoc, and Klamath County Governmental leaders spend the day visiting and hearing from Klamath Project producers.

On April 30, 2024, a unique business meeting took place as the Commissioners of Klamath County and the Supervisors of Modoc and Siskiyou Counties (Tri-Counties) jointly convened for a workshop and comprehensive tour of the Klamath Project.

The public meeting was attended by a diverse group of individuals, including county leadership, producers, water managers, media, and interested citizens. The proceedings commenced at the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) offices, where the group embarked on a bus tour led by key leaders in the Klamath Project.

“The Tri-Counties have been and continue to be solutions-oriented,” stated Brandon Criss, Siskiyou County Supervisor District 1.  “The workshop highlighted the good work going towards those many solutions.”

“As a community, we were all excited to help educate our fellow Supervisors and Commissioners about the importance of agriculture to our economies and the challenges our farmers face daily,” stated Geri Byrne, Modoc County Supervisor. “Without irrigation, there is no farm economy, and without the farm economy, the people and the Counties themselves suffer irreparable harm.”

KWUA Executive Director, Paul Simmons speaks to the Tri-Counties leadership on the bus. (Image: KWUA)

Link River

As the group headed to the top end of the Klamath Project, KWUA Executive Director Paul Simmons narrated the project’s history, development, economic value for the region, and the types and high quality of agricultural production for which it is known.

They first visited an overlook above the Link River Dam, where Gene Souza, Manager of the Klamath Irrigation District, explained the history of Upper Klamath Lake, the Link River Dam and A-Canal, their purposes, and how water enters the Klamath Project.

“The geography created a perfect place for all species: birds, wildlife, deer, elk, and people,” explained Souza. “People identified this place at least 10,000 years ago, maybe 17,000 years ago, as a great place to grow their families. A great place to grow their livelihoods and to provide for themselves. When more people came along, they identified that this was a great place to develop and further assist a growing country and a growing nation.”

Link River connects Upper Klamath Lake to Lake Ewauna and the Klamath River. The addition of the Link River Dam “was a reduction of ‘natural high elevation,’ but we keep the water for longer,” he explained.

Following Souza’s presentation, the group traveled to Pumping Plant F/FF alongside Highway 97 south of Midland. On the bus, Moss Driscoll, KWUA Director of Water Policy, explained how water was historically and how it is now regulated in the Keno Impoundment.

“Before human interventions, flows of the Klamath River were regulated naturally by a basalt reef known as the Keno Reef,” stated Driscoll. “Now those same waters are controlled by the Keno Dam, the second manmade dam to regulate the impoundment. The first, Keno Needle Dam, proved inadequate in the flood 1964-65, leading to 4000 acres being underwater around Keno for months.”

Additionally, Driscoll spoke about the current dam removal efforts and how water levels in Upper Klamath Lake factor into the drawdown and removal of hydroelectric dams downstream.

Scott White, Manager of Klamath Drainage District, speaks to county leadership at the F/FF pumping plant alongside US Highway 97. White says this plant can send water in all directions, including back to the river cleaner, colder, and healthier than it entered into the Project eleven miles upstream. (Image: KWUA)

Klamath Drainage District

At the F/FF pumps, Klamath Drainage District (KDD) board members Luther Horsley and Bill Walker, and KDD Manager Scott White discussed KDDs operations.

“I love this place on the tours for really one reason,” said White. “It shows the diversity of what we can do with water in the Klamath Project right here where we are standing. We can send water in every single direction right where we are standing – north, south, east, or west. We can take water from the river [via the Ady Canal], we can take water from the river and send it back to the river [via the Klamath Straits Drain].”

White, Walker, and Horsley also spoke about the district’s use when wildlife refuges were cut off from the water and how the KDDs portion of the project was one of the few places for Pacific Flyway migratory waterfowl in the Klamath Basin. They described KDD’s ongoing planning efforts related to projects to benefit fish, waterfowl, and farms.

Modoc County Supervisors Geri Byrne and Kathie Rhoads listen to Klamath Project ag leaders on the Tri-Counties tour. (Image: KWUA)

Pumping Plant D

In transit to the next location, County leaders passed along farmland and part of Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge on their way to Liskey Farms for lunch and socializing.

Next on the agenda was a visit to Pumping Plant D and the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the east side of Sheepy Ridge and southwest of Tulelake, California. KWUA Vice President and Tulelake Basin farmer Jeff Boyd provided an overview and welcomed guests to the Basin en route to D-Plant.

While at the plant, Brad Kirby, Manager of the Tulelake Irrigation District, and John Crawford, President of the Tulelake Irrigation District, spoke about the plant’s history, operation, and the costs of pumping water.

“The actual problem when they [Reclamation] came to [the Klamath Project] was getting rid of water,” explained Kirby. “We had too much water one hundred years ago, but now we can’t get any.”

Kirby would explain how they believe that what has happened over the last couple of decades of shutting off the Klamath Project has significantly harmed the Tule Lake Basin.

Kirby also explained the “flow-through” concept—sending water through the Klamath Project’s plumbing to both support agricultural production and improve the entire ecosystem’s health.

Water diverted for the Klamath Project flows through the irrigation canals and drains, watering ag land repeatedly while extracting harmful phosphorous and nitrogen from the water.

When the water reaches the bottom of the project, it ends up in the Tule Lake sumps, helping fish and waterfowl before being pumped back through D-Plant into Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

Lower Klamath wetlands can further improve water quality before the water reenters reentering the Klamath River at the F/FF pumps, eleven miles downstream of where it was originally diverted.

Another benefit to this process is that irrigation water seeps into the ground to help recharge groundwater, stabilize the landscape, and keep wells from drying up.

Enlightened by the vast knowledge of historic D-Plant, the group then drove the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge auto tour, where Crawford provided additional information about the importance of water for wildlife and producers.

Tri-Counties leadership tour was attended by a diverse group of individuals, including county leadership, producers, water managers, media, and interested citizens. (Image: KWUA)

Copic Bay

The leaders would next visit Copic Bay and Petroglyph Point. Here, Klamath Project irrigator Scott Seus explained the history of the great Tule Lake, which was drained to cultivate the farmland of the southeast side of the Klamath Project. He would also explain his family farm’s role in the agricultural sector and how they employ nearly 200 people annually.

On the former shoreline of Copic Bay, Seus showed tour participants where ancient people carved into the rock face of the Peninsula, using symbols not recognized by more recent inhabitants.

Seus clarified how the Project is unique in that it’s a Reclamation project to remove water from a wet location for agriculture rather than bringing water to a dry location.

“The lake used to back up into this area. These lands were the last areas drained to create all this Project farmland,” said Seus. “We’ve got a pretty diverse history here; it’s not just tribal, it’s not just farmers.”

From the petroglyphs, the group road north. Shasta View Irrigation President Gary Derry spoke to the unique challenges experienced by “Warren Act” districts.

As part of the tour, county leaders visited Cal-Ore Produce, where organic yellow potatoes were washed, sanitized, and bagged, ready for delivery to grocers in California. (Image: KWUA)

Cal-Ore Produce

Last on the tour, County leadership visited the packing facility of Cal-Ore Produce, where Ryan Finney, Manager of Cal-Ore, and Marc Staunton, a Project irrigator whose family is a co-owner of Cal-Ore, provided a tour of the organic potato packaging co-op. The guests were shown the organic packing line for red and yellow potatoes as well as the packing line for organic russet spuds.

“If you look at our Thanksgiving orders and factor in everything we shipped, close to 16 million people had our potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner,” said Finney. “That is…important for us being here.”

Leadership would ultimately end the tour, returning to KWUA.

In this trips section of the trip, Simmons discussed the “east side” of the Project, where two districts rely exclusively on water from the Lost River system. He also reported that on May 22, 2024, the Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife, and Fishers of the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on legislation that would benefit Project irrigators.

“The Tri-County meeting and Klamath Project Agricultural tour was a shared experience that was both educational and eye-opening to those on our Boards less familiar with the Basin,” said Supervisor Byrne. “I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Klamath Water Users Association and to Siskiyou County’s Elizabeth Nielsen for organizing this tour and for providing this opportunity for leaders in Klamath, Siskiyou, and Modoc Counties to learn firsthand from those involved day-to-day in the Klamath Project.”

“The KWUA board, membership, and staff thank the Tri-Counties Commissioners and Supervisors and their staff for organizing and attending the tour, stated Paul Simmons, KWUA Executive Director. “We greatly appreciate all their support in protecting the economic well-being, and public health safety, and welfare of our region.”

Footage from this event can be found on the KWUA Facebook page. Jay Martin of Siskiyou News created a video recording from this event that can be watched at https://youtu.be/gP7GtXfp-NU?si=P06hKqEHikNmH_-C


Written by Brian Gailey, KWUA Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Basin Ag News, May 2024

Cover Photo caption: KID Manager Gene Souza educates Tri-Counties leadership about the history of Upper Klamath Lake, Link River Dam and Klamath Projects A-Canal. (Image KWUA)

 

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