CORVALLIS - A multidisciplinary team of scientists and extension educators from Oregon State University and the University of California has launched a baseline assessment of environmental, economic and social issues in the Klamath Basin, where farmers, conservationists, commercial fishers, Native Americans and others are struggling over water allocation.
The basin, which straddles southern Oregon and northern California, is home to a national wildlife refuge, an abundance and variety of migratory waterfowl, bald eagles and the Lost River sucker and shortnose sucker, endangered fish. The basin also is home to the Klamath Tribes, and home to more than a thousand farm families.
The commercial fishing industry in nearby coastal communities also has a keen interest in water usage in the basin because of its dependence on salmon that spend part of their lives in rivers that run through the basin.
During part of the current growing season many farmers were cut off from irrigation water from the Klamath Irrigation Project, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Partially because of a drought in the basin, the federal agency decided there was not enough water for multiple needs including irrigation, wildlife protection and power production.
The overall goal of the university team's assessment is to assemble information about the effects of the Bureau of Reclamation's water usage decisions on the basin's people and society, natural environment and economy, said Tom Gallagher, an OSU extension specialist facilitating the work of the team.
The assessment team hopes to help identify impacts that will assist local, state, and federal officials who may make decisions about the area's future, according to Gallagher.
Additional goals of the project include generating a "case study" that will be of value to communities elsewhere in the western United States. Examples of specific topics to be studied include soils, water, wildlife, fish, vegetation, air, social services and institutions, public policy, community histories and recent changes, and the local and regional economy.
The primary focus of the study is on the Klamath Irrigation Project, which was built by the Bureau of Reclamation. The project covers about 220,000 acres surrounding the communities of Klamath Falls, Merrill and Malin, Ore., and Tulelake, Calif. However, certain parts of the assessment effort will look at the entire Klamath River watershed, according to the researchers.
The assessment team includes economists, wildlife and fish ecologists, and agricultural and social scientists. The team, which will collaborate with residents and institutions in the Klamath Basin, hopes to generate a preliminary report in December 2001 and a final report in February 2002, according to Gallagher.