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Modoc Point Irrigation District: Trading a dam for a pump station
by SAMANTHA TIPLER, Herald and News 7/21/13

HERE for KBC 'Chiloquin Dam Page

(Chiloquin) Dam will die; irrigators won’t, Capital Press, 12/7/07.


Ed Combs discusses the pumping process for stock water, even though the rest of it has been shut off. H&N photo by Steven Silton

     According to the gauge at the Modoc Point Irrigation District pump house on the Williamson River, the river’s water level has not changed since the district had to shut off irrigation water on June 26.

   On Wednesday plant manager and ditch rider Ed Combs checked the gauge.

   “When they did the shutoff it was just about where it is now,” he said. “It’s about the same. When they say we’re short, it’s hard for me to get that when my measure says right here it’s not.”

   The Modoc Point Irrigation District, like other upper Klamath Basin irrigators, had to stop pumping water from the river after the Klamath Tribes made a call for water on June 10.

   Under Klamath County’s new adjudication law, the Tribes’ time immemorial right comes before even the Modoc Point’s 1864 right, the oldest a non-native person can have according to district president Linda Long.

   The Klamath Project irrigators also made a call for water, but they are downstream from Modoc Point. The Project call only applies to those junior to the Project’s 1905 right, and downstream from Upper Klamath Lake, according to the Oregon Water Resources Department.

   Long and other Modoc Point irrigators had thought they may be safe from water calls not only because of their early priority date, but also because of a stipulated agreement with the Tribes and the federal government that resulted in the construction of the pump station on the Williamson.

   Trading a dam for a pump

   In 2008 the Chiloquin Dam, which sat on the Sprague River, was removed. That was the place where the Modoc Point Irrigation District originally   got its water.

   The dam was built in 1914 and ownership went to the irrigation district when the Klamath Tribe was terminated.

   The dam included a fish ladder, but in the mid-2000s government studies showed fish species – including the listed Lost River and shortnose suckers – had trouble bypassing the dam for upriver habitat.

   An agreement between the irrigation district, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Oregon Water Resources Department, the Klamath Tribes and others enacted a plan to remove the dam on the Sprague River and install the pumping station on the Williamson River. The agreement included the BIA provides $2.4 million to Modoc Point for upkeep of the pump and paying a plant manager.

   Previous Herald and News stories said building the new pump station cost about $9 million. Construction started in 2007.  

   Removing the dam opened up 80 miles of habitat, including spawning ground, previous newspaper stories said.

   The negotiation included lowering the amount of water the district removed from the river from 3.5 acre feet to about 2.5 acre feet, Long said.

   The district chose not to get involved with legal injunctions some upper Basin ranchers have filed against the water shutoffs because of the agreement, Long said. She thought the agreement would keep the district safe from adjudication shutoffs.  

   “We felt like we had an agreement with the Tribes,” Long said. “We didn’t think they would call on our water. But we were wrong.”

   The pump station today

   Even though irrigation water has been curtailed for the Modoc Point Irrigation District, there is still a little water being pumped from the Williamson River to the district’s ditches.  

   It amounts to four or five cubic feet per second, what’s been deemed just enough to provide drinking water to the 3,000 stock animals within the district.

   In a normal year, before adjudication and without a drought, the district would pump about 15 cubic feet per second for irrigation, Combs said. Pumping could start as early as May 15 and run through Oct. 15.

   “Some years we don’t need to start that early because it’s a wet spring,” Long said. “We don’t just turn them on   at a certain date. We assess the situation.”

   Now Combs must make sure the four cubic feet per second pumped gets to the properties it needs to within the district.

   “There’s several ditches it has to get down,” he said. “The farthest ditch is five miles down. It has to go five miles. With evaporation and loss of water just in the dirt ditches – it’s hard to get there.”

    stipler@heraldandnews.com  ; @TiplerHN





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