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Irrigation district controls dam's fate

July 24, 2005 By DYLAN DARLING, Herald and News

The removal of Chiloquin dam might be blocked.

Tearing out the 91-year-old concrete structure on the Sprague River near Chiloquin has passed through federal hurdles and has the support of legislators, environmental groups and the Klamath Tribes, but now this issue rests with the 86 landowners of the Modoc Point Irrigation District.Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis Upholding rural Americans

The district owns the dam and holds its fate.

"The board is seeking the membership's approval to go ahead," said Doug Tedrick, manager of the dam's fish passage project for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. "If the district doesn't want us to take it out, then we are not going to take it out."

Friday the members will vote on whether the board should keep discussing the possible removal with the federal government. Polls at the Crater Lake Real Estate office near the intersection of Highway 97 and the Crater Lake Highway will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"It's a vote of the land owners," said Berniece Etchevers, district secretary.

In all there are 5,300 acres in the district, 4,261 of which are being irrigated this year, she said. The district's five-member board has been in favor of removing the dam, but is checking to see if it has the support of the district's membership.

Officials have called for removal of the dam because it blocks movement of endangered sucker fishes to spawning beds up river. Improving the dam's fish ladder was also weighed, but officials opted for dam removal.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden said he supports removing the dam if the members of the irrigation district do.

"The Chiloquin dam's lack of passage is listed as one of the reasons the suckers were listed in the first place," Walden said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

 Lost River and shortnose suckers were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1988.

The diversion dam provides for the district's lone source of irrigation water, a ditch leading from the dam out to the fields on Modoc Point.

Before the dam would be taken out, a new pumping station would be put in at the government's expense to keep water flowing to the district, Tedrick said. He would not comment on how much the station might cost because he said it is going to up for bid from construction companies.

Etchevers said she is one of those in favor of putting in a pumping station and taking out the dam removal because it would bring more consistent water than the dam feed ditch that is in place now.

"A lot of times we have half as much in the ditch in July as we did in June," she said. "With the pumping station we would have water all (growing) season."

But some district members are questioning the process the board and the government are going through to decide the dam should go and wondering if it should stay.

Melinda Chauvin, a district member, said she's not specifically opposed to the removal of the dam, just the government just hasn't made its case that in the best interest of the suckers and it won't harm the district.

"The dam itself is a very small part of the issue," she said.


Chauvin, who lives half the time in Medford, has 500 acres on Modoc Point, half of which are irrigated by the district.

Among those who plan to vote no Friday are Bill Boyd, a district member and former board member. He said he plans to do so because the government is forcing the dam removal on the district without completely studying its impacts, physical and social.

Taking out the dam could harm endangered sucker habitat more than it could help, Boyd said. And the government hasn't properly set up a way of offsetting the cost of pumping for the district.

"They are making a lot of claims that they can't back up," he said. "They just haven't got their things organized."

Chauvin and Boyd, who has owned 80 acres in the district for two and-a-half years, both also are concerned about how moving where the district gets its water would affect its water rights. The district currently draws from the Sprague and has a 1864 priority date. The pumping station would be downstream, on the Williamson River after the Sprague has merged into it.

Both said the water priority date could be moved to 2005.

But Tedrick said the date wouldn't be changed because of the move and federal officials have been assured of this by the Oregon Water Resources Department.

Tedrick is in town this weekend, meeting with members of the board and land owners about the dam.

If the district approves the removal of the dam and federal funding is available in the next budget it would begin this year and be done by January 2007. Because of federal restrictions concerning suckers, construction that could affect the fishes can only be done between July 1 and January 1.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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