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Upper Klamath Lake Watershed

UKL Watersheds 6th field
Figure 1: Northern UKL 6th-field Watersheds
(Click Figure to enlarge in a new tab)

The Upper Klamath Lake (UKL) 4th-field Watershed comprises eight 6th-field watersheds that drain the east flank of the Cascades and the south rim of Crater Lake through the Wood River Valley (Figure 1). The Wood River Valley is centrally located in this watershed and provides summer pasture for tens of thousands of cattle. These pasturelands are some of the richest and most productive in the world. They are grazed year-round in some cases, but for the most part, the cattle are trucked to warmer climes to the south for the winter. These pastures have historically been either wetlands or wet meadows of one form or another. To make them suitable for grazing they were ditched and drained, in some cases as much as one hundred years ago.

In order to maintain the productivity of these pastures, it is necessary to irrigate these lands. There are a variety of methods used to accomplish the irrigation, but the overwhelmingly dominant, and generally considered the cheapest, is flood irrigation. This practice periodically rotates the cattle around a given ranch to different pastures, and then passively floods the vacated pasture using a system of head gates and canals. After a suitable period of being flooded, those same canals and water control structures are used to drain the fields. That water, now laden with livestock waste from the flooded field, is returned to a system of canals, or in some cases directly into a river or creek, all eventually flowing into Agency Lake (AL) (Ciotti 2005, and Ciotti, et al. 2010). Note that the water coming into this system is already rich in phosphorus, in particular, as it is primarily groundwater percolated through volcanic rock through various paths (Reference). As a result of this large input of nutrients, Agency and Upper Klamath Lakes have become hypereutrophic.

Osprey looks back
Figure 2: Wetlands & Pasture of the Wood River Valley
(Click Figure to enlarge in a new tab)

Klamath Wetland Education & Research Institute (KWERI) has developed this document as a proposal to enhance this collection of watersheds in terms of water quality and quantity, productivity, ecosystem services and overall watershed health. With that said, however, we believe the primary focus must be on water quality or the ecosystem will continue dysfunctionally. We propose this to our partners who are concerned with this watershed and have been or have begun working on the surrounding issues as a place to start.

Recently, the Klamath Watershed Partnership (KWP) with the assistance of David Evans, and Associates (DEA) has completed a comprehensive synthesis and analysis of the currently available information (DEA 2010). Even more recently, CH2M Hill (2012) has offered a comparable assessment. Water quality assessments have also been completed recently (Walker, et al. 2012; Eldridge, et al. 2012). KWERI believes what was learned from these reviews and many other publications from government agencies, NGOs and peer reviewed journals can be summarized with just a few major statements:

Primary Principles

Cruzin' Agency Lake
Cruzin' Agency Lake with
Wood River Wetland in the background...
Opportune Timing

This is a most opportune time to undertake a large effort toward integration of UKL and AL water quality improvement projects because two particularly valuable assets have recently come into federal hands. Those assets are the Agency Lake and Barnes Ranches (referred to here collectively as the Agency Lake Wetland (ALW) Figure 2) recently acquired by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). That land, taken together with the Wood River Wetland (WRW) acquired by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the mid-1990s and the Upper Klamath Lake National Wildlife Refuge (UKLNWR), total approximately 11,000 ha (27,000 ac) of land that is now in the public hands. In addition, Kurt Thomas on Agency Ranch has enrolled over 300 ha (750 ac) east and adjacent to the WRW in the Wetland Reserve Program. These wetlands or potential wetlands form a continuous 2-4 mile wide band between the agricultural lands of the WRV and the Upper Klamath and Agency Lake system. In a report published by the USGS (McCormick and Campbell 2007) the Wood River Valley was identified as a particularly inviting prospect for improving the water quality of the UKL Watershed. With the addition of these acreages, the prospects for success are very significantly improved.

In addition to these northern tributaries to the lakes, the recent restoration by TNC of the Williamson River Delta (WRD) coupled with strategically place restorations in the Sprague River Valley (SRV), offer the opportunity to clean up the other major inputs to this lake system. It is important, however, that all of these restoration efforts be judiciously located. As Crumpton (2001) observed in a midwestern watershed, if wetland restoration isn’t positioned in such a way as to intercept the majority of the water from the watershed, it can’t possibly have a major impact on the water quality.

The purpose of the work outlined in this proposal is to facilitate and contribute understanding to a process of evaluating these lands for the development of diffuse-source treatment wetlands through their restoration or continued restoration. We also believe our efforts will contribute to finding the optimum balance between using these lands for water treatment, while also producing fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.

Table of Contents

  1. Upper Klamath Lake Watershed
  2. Historical Function of the Lake System
  3. Lake System Restoration Opportunities - these sections still in draft
    1. Treatment Wetlands
    2. Recirculating Wetlands and Alum addition
    3. Subsidence Reversal
    4. Reconnection of Large Band Lake Fringe Wetlands to the Lake System
    5. Economic Analysis and Public Education
  4. Walker Rim Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem