Balancing Water: Restoring the Klamath Basin / Edition 1

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The Klamath Basin is a land of teeming wildlife, expansive marshes, blue-ribbon trout streams, tremendous stretches of forests, and large ranches in southern Oregon and northern California. Known to waterfowl, songbirds, and shorebirds, the Klamath Basin's marshlands are a mecca for birds along the Pacific Flyway. This gorgeously illustrated book is a paean to the beauty of the Klamath Basin and at the same time a sophisticated environmental case study of an endangered region whose story parallels that of watershed development throughout the west.

A collaboration between two photographers and a writer, Balancing Water tells the story in words and pictures of the complex relationship between the human and natural history of this region. Spectacular images by Tupper Ansel Blake depict resident species of the area, migratory birds, and dramatic landscapes. Madeleine Graham Blake has contributed portraits of local residents, while archival photographs document the history of the area.

William Kittredge's essay on the conjunction of conflicting interests in this wildlands paradise is by turns lyrically personal and brimming with historical and scientific facts. He traces the water flowing through the Klamath Basin, the human history of the watershed, and the land-use conflicts that all touch on the availability of water. Ranchers, loggers, town settlers, Native Americans, tourists, and environmentalists are all represented in the narrative, and their diverse perspectives form a complicated web like that of the interactions among organisms in the ecosystem.

Kittredge finds hope in the endangered Klamath Basin, both in successful restoration projects recently begun there, and in the community involvement he sees as necessary for watershed restoration and biodiversity preservation. Emphasizing that we must take care of both human economies and the natural environment, he shows how the two are ultimately interconnected. The Klamath Basin can be a model for watershed restoration elsewhere in the west, as we search for creative ways of solving our intertwined ecological and social problems.

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Editorial Reviews

The three collaborators on this oversize (10.5x12.5<">) volume all have a passionate personal interest in the subject matter. Photographers Tupper Blake and Madeleine Graham Blake use their intimate knowledge of the area to provide the color photos that document the birds, animals, landscape, and human residents of the Klamath Basin of Oregon; writer William Kittredge, who grew up there, provides the text. The book presents a close look at an endangered region whose problems connected with watershed development are echoed throughout the West, and whose restoration efforts<-->including community involvement<-->could be models for restoration projects elsewhere. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520213142
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 7/10/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 10.00 (w) x 12.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tupper Ansel Blake is a photographer whose books include Tracks in the Sky: Wildlife and Wetlands of the Pacific Flyway (1987), Two Eagles/Dos Aguilas: The Natural World of the United States-Mexico Borderlands (with Peter Steinhart, California, 1994), and Wild California: Vanishing Lands, Vanishing Wildlife (with Peter Steinhart, California, 1985). Madeleine Graham Blake is an exhibiting photographer whose work has appeared at the Pasadena Art Museum, Friends of Photography, and the Monterey Art Museum, as well as other galleries and museums. William Kittredge is a former rancher and creative writing professor at the University of Montana, as well as author of Hole in the Sky: A Memoir (1992), and Who Owns the West (1996). His essays have been published in many collections, including Waste Land: Meditations on a Ravaged Landscape (1997). He grew up in the Klamath Basin.

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Table of Contents


1. Otey Island/Everything is part of Everything
2. Sycan Marsh/Yamsi
3. The Marsh/The State of Klamath
4. Time Immemorial
5. Earthworks

The Klamatch Basin: The Land, the Wildlife

6. Feathers
7. The Rewards of Tenacity
Inviolable Rights
9. Gridlock/Home Rule

The Klamath Basin: The People

10. Chemicals
11. Wetlands

12. Neighborhoods/Managing the Commons/Adjudicating the Future/Continuties

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First Chapter

Balancing Water

Restoring the Klamath Basin
By Tupper Ansel Blake Madeleine Graham Blake

The University of California Press

Copyright © 2000 Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-520-21314-9

Chapter One


* * * A widely agreed-upon, short-term remedy for Klamath Basin watershed problems is a plan to redevelop wetlands. It's endorsed by conservationists and farmers and ranchers. Wetlands filter drainage water coming off farm- and ranch lands upstream, provide habitat for waterfowl, spawning grounds for endangered fish, and late-season upstream storage for irrigators. Win, win, win. But the working out is never so simple.

North of Klamath Lake, there's a reach of grazing meadows-cut by sod-banked fishing rivers, the Sprague, the Williamson, and the Wood, and centered on the tiny country town of Fort Klamath-that constitute one of the most appealing landscapes in the American West. Fertile, framed by aspen groves, it looks to have once been a paradise of hunting animals like mule deer and elk. If the truly rich with their enormous invulnerabilities and funds ever decide to buy into the Klamath country, the way they have bought up parts of Montana, where I live, they'll probably start around the Fort. In the meantime, as it has been for decades, Fort Klamath is grazing country. About 40,000 acres support 40,000 cows and calves for the summer,some 240,000 animal-unit months

The Williamson River, the Sprague, and the Wood carry an enormous load of livestock waste into Klamath Lake. Polluting prime trout habitat on the way, they feed nutrients to processes in the lake that result in a huge annual bloom of blue-green algae, which then dies and settles. Bacteria decompose the algae and, as they do, deplete oxygen levels in the lake, which becomes both acidic and hypoxic, unlivable for fish (these same processes, because of nitrogen and various other nutrients from the Mississippi River system, have led to the formation of a seven-thousand-square-mile "dead zone" in the seawaters of the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana). The summer drawdown from the lake, which provides water for irrigators, heightens the problem. Reaches of the lake in late summer in dry years are reduced to mudflats. The shores are littered with decaying fish. Those that survive are mainly the ones that migrate up into the streams. Water from the basin, thick with sediment, flows into the Klamath River. Oxygen levels in the Klamath River in 1986, between Lake Ewauna and Keno, fell to near zero, killing thousands of fish. Responding to sportfishers and the commercial fishing industry and the various tribes, Congress created the Klamath Basin Fisheries

"Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question of whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free."

Restoration Task Force and gave them the task of developing a salmon recovery plan. Farmers in the basin, fearful of losing irrigation water, didn't cooperate. After years of interest-group infighting, the process seems stalled.

That same year, 1986, the Klamath tribes asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect two species of fish they regard as culturally valuable, the qapdo (pronounced kuptu) and c'wam (pronounced ch-wam). These fish, also known as shortnose and Lost River suckers, exist only in the Klamath Basin. In 1988 the agency listed both species as endangered. Reclamation was forced to ensure water in habitat where the suckers spawned. Which meant less water for irrigators. Many were furious. But the trouble was just beginning. By 1991 Reclamation had not yet begun work on a plan to ensure the recovery of the suckers. A lawsuit by the ONRC asked that Reclamation be required to consult with federal biologists on matters having to do with the welfare of the suckers. It was, environmentalists say, a way of "requiring them to do their job."

The Klamath Basin Water Users, an alliance of irrigation districts, farm supply companies, and Klamath Basin business leaders, responded by hiring scientists and lawyers. Serious water wars in the Klamath Basin were under way.

All these problems were exacerbated in 1992 by one of the severe drouths connected to so-called El Niño events in the Pacific. Extreme habitat problems in the Klamath River system caused the Pacific Fisheries Management Council to cut the number of salmon that could be harvested in the ocean. The Department of Interior, under pressure from down-stream interests, ordered Reclamation to release more water for the salmon into the Klamath River. The Bureau of Reclamation, for the first time since the formation of the district, had to restrict and in some cases cut off water to irrigators in the lower end of the basin, affecting around 70,000 acres of cropland. The Bureau, in order to avoid having to cut irrigators even more, drained Clear Lake Reservoir to the lowest levels ever, a move considered harmful to a native population of pelicans. Efforts that winter by the Bureau to review the allocation process didn't get far. "There was a heavy snowpack in 1993," the head of the Bureau said, "and the farmers were in denial."

Nineteen ninety-four was another drouth year. The Bureau cut water to irrigators a second time, ultimately to all irrigators for periods ranging from two to six weeks. As the head of the Bureau said, "Some were just enraged."

The fury of farmers on lands served by the enormous run of irrigation projects developed by the Bureau of Reclamation was understandable. They had been promised all the water they could use. No one imagined the supply would ever run short.

In the meantime, back at Fort Klamath, up toward the head of the watershed, under pressure from environmental groups like Oregon Trout, ranchers voluntarily built fish ladders around irrigation dams and fenced off streamsides. While those efforts were admirable, they were not going to cure the core problem, animal waste in the watershed.

In response to this thicket of interrelated troubles, the Oregon senator Mark Hatfield (since retired) held a hearing in Klamath Falls on July 6, 1994. Hatfield felt that the testimony of local citizens at that hearing offered ample evidence of the desire and willingness of the community to resolve economic and environmental issues at the basin level. He appointed twenty-seven people, representing public and private interests, to a consortium called the Hatfield Klamath Basin Working Group.

Hatfield asked them to develop projects focused on ecosystem restoration, economic stability, and the reduction of drouth impacts, and promised his support and help in implementing those projects. The Working Group first met on April 6, 1995, and on May 17 it sent a short list of projects to Hatfield for inclusion in the Fiscal Year 1996 Federal Budget. Senator Hatfield obtained $3,500,000 for the purchase of 4,700 acres of former Tulana Farms land at the mouth of the Williamson River and $725,000 for use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in riparian restoration. Working Group proposals for fiscal year 1997 resulted in $5,500,000 for wetlands restoration on the Tulana Farms land, and $500,000 for restoration of wetlands on property purchased in 1994 by the Bureau of Land Management at the mouth of the Wood River.

Jim Carpenter took some hours away from his Cell Tech duties and drove Tupper and Madeleine and me to sad old polluted Lake Ewauna on the edge of downtown Klamath Falls. Sunken timbers left over from its log-pond days are reputed to lie one on top of the other to a depth of fifty feet, decaying into the nutrient overload that feeds into the Klamath River. Timber-milling buildings along the edge of the lake, the old Modoc Lumber Company, have been torn down, the equipment allegedly shipped to Siberia, leaving 400 acres for development. Carpenter hopes some of that development, along with cobblestone streets and upscale shops, will be wetlands.

The idea, Carpenter said, is to ring the lake with marshes that will also function as down-town city parks. Living in a city with downtown parks helps citizens feel positive about the possibility of a good life where they live. Which in turn drives economic activity. Wetlands are good for nature, and economically sensible, feasible, and good for community. No negatives.

The next day Carpenter drove us to the north end of Klamath Lake, to the delta of the Williamson River, for a look at the 4,700 acres formerly drained and farmed by Tulana Farms. In July 1996, with the intention of returning the entire acreage to wetlands, the Nature Conservancy had bought the property. But farmers protested that there was no other "clean" ground in the Klamath Basin for the production of seed potatoes, so Nature Conservancy administrators agreed to continued farming on 1,150 acres. They plan to return 3,650 acres to permanent wetlands. The plan was endorsed by the Klamath tribes, and restoration work was funded at the request of the Hatfield Klamath Basin Working Group. But others saw the final deal as an instance of rolling over when confronted with the economic power of regional agribusiness. The decision-making, it was said, had been undemocratic, involving secret meetings. To give decision makers credit, it's often impossible to do business with private owners if details of the negotiations are going to make the newspapers. And the wetlands, in any event, are a very good idea.

In 1994 the Bureau of Land Management acquired the Wood River Ranch on Agency Lake, a northern arm of Klamath Lake, planning to reestablish wetlands at the mouth of Wood River and restore the river to its traditional channel in old stream meanders. Wedge Watkins, a longtime Bureau of Land Management employee supervising the restoration, had heavy equipment at work rebuilding dikes. "When they drained this place," he says, "the surface subsided. We're three or four feet below the lake surface. So we're stuck with these dikes for a long time." A big pumping plant, to move water in and out, was already in place. Artifice covering artifice, imitating the natural.

Wedge Watkins gazed off toward the beauties of the Wood River Valley, aspen groves and winding watercourses, and meadows thick with grazing cattle. "With so much livestock upstream," he said, "we have to absorb about the equivalent of 250,000 people dumping their sewage into this watershed." The marsh will work as a water filter, a spawning ground, and as upstream storage for late-season irrigation in the lower basin. A lot of problems addressed with one redeveloped marshland. But, again, people had complaints about the way the property was acquired, in a land trade-the Wood River marshes for 520 acres of old-growth forest. The federal government, it was said, should have simply bought the properties. For sure, if the old growth is cut, it will be a sad loss in territory where there was once so much so-called virgin timber.

During the winter of 1997-98, for an estimated cost of \$5 million, the 7, 123-acre Agency Lake Ranch, on the shore of Agency Lake, was bought by the Trust for Public Lands and its control given over to the Bureau of Reclamation (it will be purchased by the federal government). The land is to be flooded, enabling the Bureau to store around 15,000 acre-feet of water behind existing dikes, and 40,000 acre-feet after the dike system is built up.

It's hoped that these wetlands will provide water to cover shortages in the basin in all but the driest years (there are people who claim that this, given evaporation rates of around 4 acre-feet per year, is nonsense). Summer nutrient loading in Klamath Lake will in any event be reduced by removal of some eight thousand grazing livestock. And as water is released it will be filtered through marshlands. Some of the toxic microcystin algae will be filtered out.

These projects are presently thought of as major successes. They have brought a wide range of diverse economic and environmental interests into previously unheard-of working partnerships, and waterbirds will throng to the remade marshes.

Jim Hainline took Madeleine and Tupper and me out to have lunch with Louis Randall and his wife, Maren, at their Langell Valley home in the Lost River drainage, near the place where wetlands reclamation in the Klamath Basin got under way in 1868, as the Langell family settled in. (It's also the setting for a Zane Grey novel called The Forlorn River.)

Randall created 800 acres of private wetlands under a conservation easement, and he proposes 300 more, work carried out for the common good, with the help of federal experts for sure, but for their own and the common good. When I asked how far he'd go with recreating marshlands, Randall said, "Just as soon put the whole thing in." In the days before the Lost River channel was dredged, it was all wetlands. "We cut hay on the high ground," Randall said. "Then we broke it up. Plowed the whole summer of 1945. Put in oats in 1946. For forty years we farmed it, but it was marginal grain land." Randall says he got the idea of creating marshes from duck hunters who came back year after year for the fall shooting in his fields. Now, he said, he's making more off the hunting leases than he ever did with grain. And it's easy. "Keep it wet," he said, "and let the tules grow."

Louis Randall is in his seventies and very well regarded in Oregon, a prosperous man (his wife, Maren, served us lunch beside their enclosed swimming pool) and a former head of the Oregon Cattleman's Association. If anybody had a chance to be locked into traditional ranching, Louis Randall is the man. But, he said, "we can't go back. We have to go forward." With the marshlands, he's making money, and he's proud of himself for working to leave things as alive as he found them when he was young.

A few days later, Jim Hainline took Madeleine and Tupper and me to visit with a rancher named Dan Byrne, who comes from a longtime ranching family. Byrne runs cows on private and federally owned highland country, a lot of it rocky juniper flats east of the Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Cowmen using public lands, like those managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in Klamath County, face image problems that seem to be getting worse. Grazing fees, set in Washington, D.C., with western Congressmembers looking on, are often well below market rates. Ranchers, as seen by the public, are getting huge subsidies. Cows eat feed that could be used by overwintering wildlife. They trash riparian zones and pollute recreation areas. Cows, no matter what livestock producers say, are more and more unpopular with the national public. For decades, livestock producers have denied their problems, putting out a line of talk that sells in their meetings and in ranch land cafes. But the general public isn't buying it. The rancher's fund of good will in the nation at large has been seriously eroded. It can only be restored through some national public-lands policy revamping. And by the work of ranchers who use the rangelands.


Excerpted from Balancing Water by Tupper Ansel Blake Madeleine Graham Blake Copyright © 2000 by Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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