Reclamation History

bureau of relamation photo - horse drawn hay wagon
How it all began – Private water projects began in 1868. A small irrigation ditch was dug near Linkville, and by 1884 it had been widened and extended for 15 miles, irrigating 16,000 acres. Water power for early saw mills and grain mills started in 1869.

van brimmer brothers helped frank adams divert water from lower klamath lake to merrill oregon
1880’s… Pre Project Days – For nearly twenty years the Adams Canal drained water from Lower Klamath Lake into the Merrill area. Frank Adams had help from these Van Brimmer brothers to make the system work.

klmath falls 1902.  bureau of reclamation photo
1902… The Reclamation Act – The population of Klamath Falls, then called Linkville, was 447 in 1900. Congress enacted the Reclamation Act of 1902, which encouraged the settlement of the arid western states with the use of water for irrigation and power development.Today, Klamath Falls has the largest population in the entire Klamath River watershed by a factor of nearly ten.

1905 bureau of reclamation klamath reclamation project area map
1903… a Concept is tested – the Bureau of Reclamation sent John T. Whistler, Engineer of the Oregon District, to investigate the possibility of the Klamath area becoming the second federal reclamation project.
Engineer Whistler found a long gradually sloping basin that on average dropped a foot in elevation every 1,000 feet. Upper Klamath Lake was at the northern end and two large shallow lakes, Lower Klamath and Tule Lake, were to the south. Water through the seasons advanced and receded between three basins and the Klamath River. The challenge for Reclamation would be to divert water from Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Lake to create productive farmland.

klamath county museum photo of link river going dry.
Summers could be dry – John T. Whistler was also aware that the mile-long Link River, connecting Upper Klamath Lake with the Klamath River, had an Indian village whose name meant “the river that flows two ways.”In the late summer,it was not uncommon for the river to go dry or have its water blown north into Upper Klamath Lake by wind.

klamath falls, link river.
1904… Project Moves Forward – In July of 1904, Reclamation began the process when investigations and surveys confirmed the Project’s feasibility. Basin residents petitioned the Secretary of Interior, “99% of the people are a unit, and are clamoring for the assistance which might be rendered by the Government under the Reclamation Act.”

looking north across marshes at klamath falls, june 6-30-1907.
The Problem Was Getting Rid of Water – “ It contains an irrigation problem, an evaporation problem, a runoff problem, any one of which is difficult in itself but all of which together form a most perplexing whole. In nearly all reclamation projects water has to be conserved. In this project there is more than enough and the question of disposing of it becomes an import part.” Project engineer

hay wagons 1905 klamath water users organized in 1905,  bureau of reclamation photo
1905… Do something good for the country – Local farmers unanimously supported the reclamation project and organized the original Klamath Water Users Association on March 4th, 1905. They told the government, “if you will be the plumber and the banker, we can do something good for the country.”

The project was approved on May 15th, 1905 and one million  dollars was immediately allocated. Reclamation began to buy, and unify, private water projects into one master plan. photo of link river, klamath falls.  bureau of reclamation photo
1905… Klamath Reclamation Project – The project was approved on May 15th, 1905 and one million dollars was immediately allocated. Reclamation began to buy, and unify,private water projects into one master plan. This photo is looking north up Link River towards Upper Klamath Lake.

main klamath canal being built in 1906.  bureau of reclamation photo
1906… Water Conveyance – Construction on the nine mile long Main Canal and six highway bridges crossing it began in 1906. Sheepy Ridge in the Tule lake Basin can be seen in the distance behind Stukel mountain.

bureau reclamation photo of railroad tracks built along lower klamath lake.
1907… Water and Transportation – The California and Northeastern Railway agreed to build a railroad embankment across the north end of Lower Klamath Lake to double as a levee. This would give the Project the ability to divert spring runoff that would flow south into Lower Klamath Lake.

lost river photo of clear lake dam project.  klamath reclamation project.  bureau of reclamation photo
!908-1912… Controlling water from the east – Excavation for the Clear Lake Dam began in 1908.The 790 feet wide by 33 feet high earth and rock filled dam was completed in 1912.The reservoir had a two fold purpose: irrigate Yonna and Langell Valleys and hold backwater from Tule Lake. Excess flow from here could now be sent down the Klamath River through the Lost River Diversion Cana. Pre-project this water would go into Tule Lake.

bureau of reclamation project photo:  workers on the clear lake dam - 1909. klamath reclamation project
1909… Labor is needed – In July and August many workers left for higher wages in the harvest fields. 100 Bulgarians joined the work force in August. In busy months 200 men and 60 horses worked building the Clear Lake Dam.

bureau of relamation photo of steambot at the southern end of upper klamath lake.
An age of navigation – Approval of the Project also required Congressional approval to end navigation on Lower Klamath Lake and Tule Lake. Steamboats were an everyday site crossing Upper Klamath Basin open waters.

bureau of reclamation photo of tule lake 1905.
Water rights – Approval of the Klamath Project rested on adjudication of all vested and conflicting water rights and cessation of rights and title to the Federal Government by Oregon and California for Lower Klamath Lake and Tule Lake.

©2014 Anders Tomlinson, all rights reserved.

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