50 Years On The Klamath

by John C. Boyle


           While it was generally known that Upper Klamath Lake was a shallow body of water and that most of the area of the bottom was covered with mud, very little information was available as to the contours of the lake bottom. The Reclamation Service made a series of soundings in 1905 along certain courses but the soundings were taken at considerable distance apart and did not supply the information needed.

In 1919 survey parties were organized and soundings taken about 400 feet apart. A triangulations system was established along the shoreline on which two transits were located on opposite sides of the lake to observe the location of a boat equipped with a sounding weight. The weight was dropped every two minutes and the azimuth, vertical angle and depth were recorded.

Soundings were taken only during good weather without wind, and elevation of the lake surface was taken from a fixed gauge established by the Reclamation Service.

From the field records, it was possible to plot a contour map of the lake bottom with contour intervals at one foot.

This map made it possible to determine the navigation channels and log ponds, which would be affected with the lake drawn down to elevation 4137. The depth of water required for logging was established at five feet so excavation to lake bottom elevation 4132 for log ponds was considered necessary.

The mean elevation of the lake bottom including Agency Lake was 4130 feet. The actual open water surface of the Upper Lake was found to be 58,200 acres and the actual water surface of Agency Lake was found to be 8000 acres making a total of 66,200 acres at elevation 4142 feet.

The zones of deeper depths showed that the deep water was along the west shore of the lake from above Eagle Ridge to below Squaw Point. For a length of about 8 miles and an aver- age width of three-quarters of a mile the water is generally 15 to 30 feet deep with a low spot of 40 feet.

Downstream from this area and also on the west side of the lake, a zone from Skillet Point to about 5 miles south of the lower end of Little Wocus Marsh had an average width of 800 feet. This zone was generally 15 to 20 feet deep with a low spot of 25 feet.

These depressions have resulted from shore currents caused from prevailing winds and by upward currents created by springs.

          The mean depth of water in Upper Klamath Lake , including Agency Lake , with water surface elevation 4143.3 feet, was found to be 13.3 feet. The mean depth with water surface elevation at 4137 feet was found to be 7 feet.

The volume of water in the lake at elevation 4137 feet was computed at 463,000 acre-feet (dead storage). The volume of the lake with open water surface at 4143.3 feet was computed at 880,000 acre feet (live storage 417,000 acre feet). Water covering swamp and overflowed land would add about 132,000 acre feet to live storage making a total of 549,000 acre feet.

At elevation 4143.3 feet, the lake shoreline was about 130 miles. At the lower elevation of 4140 feet, the lake shoreline was about l00 miles.

To deepen the log ponds, log canals and navigation channels, a suction dredger was built and began operating in May 1923. The dredge was electrically operated through a 2300 Volt waterproof cable, supported on floats. The barge supporting the equipment was 24 feet by 60 feet by 61/2 feet and supported a 12-inch pump with a 12-inch suction pipe, and a cutter head. The pump had a 14-inch discharge line about 2000 feet long supported on 128 pontoons.

The most important navigation channels were along the Shippington waterfront and across the lake east to west to a channel along the north bank of Little Wocus Marsh.

It was difficult to obtain dumping ground around the shore of the lake, so about 500,000 yards of excavated materials were dumped into the center of the lake midway between Shippington and Little Wocus Marsh forming an island.

Soundings taken in 1925 and 1926 indicated that this east-west channel across the lake had been largely filled in. The channel along Shippington waterfront showed very little fill-in. Complaints were filed in 1930 against the depositing of material in the middle of the lake so suction dredge operations were discontinued on navigation channels. While the complaints were being answered, tests were made on movement of wind, water and lake bottom materials.  

Wind Direction

From observations made during 1930-1932:

Duration in percent of windy days

North and Northwest.                           71.7

South and Southwest.                          13.1%

Southwest,                                             4.4%

Northeast                                               4.5%

West.                                                     6.3%

East                                                       0.0%


A cross section of the lake was taken and used to obtain the maximum, minimum and mean velocities of the water outflow of the lake for the period of years 1906 to 1931.

Maximum mean monthly velocity, feet per minute- 4.76

Minimum mean monthly velocity, feet per minute- 1.51

Mean seasonal velocity, feet per minute- 2.97

           The change in the lake bottom at the lower end of Klamath Lake was observed, and the volume of scour and fill from 1905 to 1919 was found to equal 8.4 inches. This is equivalent to a mean annual fill of .60 inches. The volume of scour and fill from 1919 to 1931 was equal to 5.0 inches. This is equivalent to a mean annual fill of .43 inches.

The filling of the lower end of the lake has accounted for only 4% of the sediment conveyed to the outlet area from above.

Samples of water taken at various times indicated an average sediment content of about 2000 parts per million by volume of water.

The extent to which the lower end of the lake has been filled in by diatomaceous sediment in the past was not known. A boring was made on the McCormick mud flat in 1931. This boring extended 27 feet into but not through the diatomaceous deposit.

The depth of 27 feet of deposit would require 650 years to build up at the mean annual rate of filling of one-half inch per year calculated for the period 1905 to 1931.

In 1919 there were six principal timber interests operating on the Upper Klamath, five of whom were getting most of their logs from the west side of the lake. The logs were dumped into canals or landings bordering the lake.

The problems were mostly to protect these properties from low water by deepening log canals, log ponds and navigation channels.

Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company owned about 5500 acres of land including an area of marshland all contiguous to the west side of the lake. It had plans to reclaim swamp land for a mill site and contemplated that the Great Northern Railroad would build the west side of the lake to serve its operations.

In 1927 and 1928, when the Great Northern and Southern Pacific railroads agreed to a joint use from the Upper Klamath Marsh to Klamath Falls , plans were changed. The mill was built three miles below Klamath Falls on Klamath River .

Algoma Lumber Company's mill was built on the southwest corner of Algoma Marsh on the east side of Upper Klamath Lake on about 26 acres of lake cut off by the Southern Pacific Railroad main line embankment. The 26 acres was used as a log pond and the lumber company had access to the lake through a 20-foot culvert under the embankment.

Because of the deposit of sediment from logs dumped into the pond, and to allow logs to be brought in from the lake through the culvert, the lumber company insisted that the level of Upper Klamath Lake be maintained at maximum.

The log pond was deepened but the culvert remained unchanged, as logs no longer came from Upper Klamath Lake .

The pond was surrounded by a dike, which protected the lumber yard and mill from over- flow from the lake.

The Lamm Lumber Company was located on the northeast end of Upper Klamath Lake at Modoc Point. Logging operations in 1920 were on the west side of the lake above Weyerhaeuser canal. Shortly thereafter logging operations were moved to the Indian reservation so navigation of the lake was no longer involved.

However, the mill and surroundings needed protection against high water and the log pond needed deepening to float logs at low water. By building a piling and timber bulkhead in the lake, an additional area was provided for railroad track and storage of logs and the area within the bulkhead was filled with dredged material from the lake bottom and from the high ground east of the mill. The material in the bottom of the log pond was mostly hardpan and was very difficult to dredge.

The Pelican Bay Lumber Company was the largest lumber operation in the area during the early '20s. It was very much opposed to Upper Klamath Lake regulation because it believed the effect would be disastrous to it.

The mill, lumber yard and log ponds were located on a section of reclaimed marshland with a lake frontage of about 2000 feet and north of the Shippington waterfront. Drainage water from hills to the east would not flow by gravity into the lake when the lake was at maximum elevation, so this water would flood the lumber yards and areas around the mill and buildings. Water supply for boilers and fire protection was taken through a canal from the lake and became filled with sediment and mud, thus requiring treatment. The logging canal, pond area and log slip were dredged out and lowered. Sewage disposal was a problem.

In 1924, a dry year, the lumber company was forced to shut down, which involved payment of damages.

About the time a final agreement was made, the lumber company moved its logging operation to the vicinity of Mt. Scott , thus eliminating the problem of navigation on the Upper Klamath Lake .

During the dredging of log ponds along the waterfront, enough "sinkers" or logs on the lake bottom were salvaged to repay considerable of the costs.

Klamath Lumber and Box Company (formerly Klamath Manufacturing Co.) had been in operation many years before lake regulation was proposed. It was located on marsh property with a lake front of about one-half mile. Most of the area on which the operation was located was filled with bark, slabs and sawdust so the mill and box factory had to be founded on piling.

It was necessary to deepen the log pond, log canal and log slip. Also proper drainage from higher areas above the plant was provided. This company purchased logs from various contractors around the lake and owned launches and towing equipment itself, so the company was involved with navigation of the lake until the timber supply around the lake was exhausted. It continued to operate by obtaining logs by rail from elsewhere.

The Hunter-Walker-Hovey Sawmill was located north of and adjoining the Pelican Bay Lumber Co. mill on about 100 acres of swampland at a surface elevation of about 4140 feet.

The usual work of excavating the log pond, and building up the lakeshore dike was done. The log pond was all within the lake proper near shallow areas and these needed to be dredged to float logs.

The most serious problem was to locate a place to dump the dredged material. The lumber company, however, agreed that dredged material could be deposited on its lands. As a result, the lumber company had an excellent log pond on a navigation channel and all of its land filled to an elevation above the high water level of the lake.

About 500,000 yards of dredged material was permanently removed from the lake bottom.  

Every separate ownership on the Upper Klamath Lake became an individual problem.

The general policy in obtaining a release from any damage, which might occur from lake regulation, was:  

(1)    Purchase a complete release.

(2)    Purchase the property.

(3)    Perform work to prevent damage.

(4)    Execute agreements to protect the property.

(5)    Lease the property pending proof of damage.

(6)    Litigations.

A combination of two or more of these methods had to be followed in many cases. The most affected properties were swampland, reclaimed or not, which were subject to overflow under natural fluctuations of the lake. Some of the most important lands involved 'in these fluctuations are mentioned briefly below.

The largest swampland developments were those of the McCormack family. The areas in Wilson Marsh, Little Wocus Marsh, Caledonia Marsh and Big Wocus Marsh were included with some higher land and totaled over 10,000 acres. About 7500 acres of this land was classified as swamp and overflowed land with an average surface elevation of 4140 feet. This was 3.3 feet below the maximum lake elevation of 4143.3 and 3 feet above the minimum lake elevation of 4137 feet. Lake regulation admittedly would change the methods of operation for these lands.

 During 1910, dikes had been constructed along the shoreline of the lake to reclaim most of those areas, but the common mistake of constructing these dikes too close to the lakeshore was made. Not only were the dikes subject to erosion from wind action, but also material taken from the lake for building the dike created a deep channel, which in turn became deeper as more material was needed to keep the dikes at maximum level. This excavated channel greatly increased the danger to the dike. The only remedies were to move the dike at least 100 feet into the land and away from the lakeshore or to provide riprap of some kind on the lake face of the dike. Either course of action would be expensive.

When the temporary crib dam was built at the head of Link River in 1919, the McCormack interests sought protection by filing an injunction to stop the work until their interests were recognized. On July 19, 1920 , the injunction was dismissed by virtue of a stipulation agreement mutually satisfactory to all parties.

The operations under this agreement included dike maintenance, pumping for irrigation and drainage and damages caused by dike breaks or overflows.

Eagle Ridge property was made up of 600 acres of diked marshland and 600 acres of timberland and included a summer resort on the northern end of a ridge, which extended two miles into the Upper Klamath Lake . The marshland was partially reclaimed in 1910 and used for hay and pasture.

Dr. W. H. Gaddes had purchased it from Dan and John Griffith who had built a tavern, surrounding buildings and boat landing about 1909, and used it as a summer resort for several years.

           In the spring of 1921, Gaddes leased 220 acres of marshland for the growing of mint. This venture failed and the failure was blamed on the lake regulation and ended in a suit for damages.

From 1920 to 1923, the tavern was operated by Mrs. Weston and Mrs. Kilbourne. The Eagle Ridge Hotel Company was organized and it contracted to purchase the property from Gaddes. In 1925 it was leased to the Eagle Ridge Rod and Gun Club made up of local Klamath Falls sportsmen who got very little use of it. It was finally closed with a watchman attendant.

On December 8, 1932 , the tavern burned to the ground and the few remaining buildings were of little value. The swampland was subsequently turned over to the Oregon State Game Commission for a bird refuge.

Odessa , Harriman Lodge, Point Comfort and Rocky Point have been and perhaps always will be centers for recreation.

The people who live there and the people who come and go have never universally agreed on whether high water or low water in the Upper Klamath Lake is the best for recreation. With ample lake surface in Pelican Bay , clear inflowing streams and thousands of acres of unreclaimed swampland in the public domain, the recreational advantages are apparent. About 2000 acres of Pelican Bay marsh between Odessa and Harriman Lodge and about 10,000 acres of marsh north of Rocky Point, if properly conserved, will continue to be nesting areas and resting areas for migratory waterfowl. Fishing in Williamson River , offshore of Eagle Ridge, Coon Point and Recreation Creek is always good.

About 1909, regular mail service was established between Klamath Falls and points around the Upper Lake such as Eagle Ridge, Odessa , Rocky Point and others. Three 40-foot launches, the Oakland , Oregon and Spray, not only carried mail under contract with the U.S. Postal Service but carried passengers and freight. Regular schedules were maintained and special trips to Agency landing and fishing areas could be arranged. These boats and the Rocky Point Resort were operated by A. R. Leavitt between 1921 and 1928.

At times when the Upper Lake was frozen, the mail was carried over unimproved roads. With the construction and improvement of highways on both sides of the lake, the mail boat operations lost business, and in 1926 the mail contract was awarded to a carrier via road. Thereafter these boats were operated only when special work was required and gradually were removed from service. The Fort Klamath Meadows Co. property consisted of about 27,000 acres of partially reclaimed marsh and meadowlands. It included the Marsters tract of about 6,000 acres and the Abner Weed ranch. The northern part or upper areas were not affected by lake regulation. Some dikes and drains were built on the lower areas prior to 1917, but reclamation was never completed.

The Meadows Drainage District was organized about 1921 and issued bonds to further finance the reclamation. One of the most difficult problems was to dispose of surface runoff, which naturally flowed onto the land from the north and west. During heavy spring runoff water from the Upper Fort Klamath basin would accumulate behind the dikes sufficient in depth to run over the dikes from the land into Agency Lake .  

            Prolonged negotiations and court actions resulted in easements and releases mutually satisfactory.

The Williamson River delta lands on the Klamath Indian Reservation covered about 6500 acres. About 2000 acres of this area was on the south and east side of the river channel and was called unit No. 1, and about 4500 acres north and west of the river channel was called unit No.2. There was also a strip of land along the east shore of Agency Lake , and a small unit No.3 of about 500 acres along the north shore of Agency Lake and Wood River , and an area of about 1200 acres called unit No.4 on Fort Creek, Wood River , Squaw Creek and other streams. The total swamp and overflowed land was about 8200 acres and the Agency Lake shore lands about 400 acres.

A low ridge along the lake shore of the swampland had a general elevation of 4140 feet, so the lowest parts of the swamp areas were between the river banks and the lake shore.

The Indians on the reservation cut hay and pastured livestock during the summer along the high ground. They had received allotments of variable acreage and built homes above the natural highwater of the Upper Klamath Lake .

The matter of lake regulation was discussed with the Indian agent, members of the Tribal Council and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which resulted in a contract on June 6, 1920 . The contract granted a lease of 5 years on tribal land with an option to renew for 5 years. A lease on the allotted land was made for 10 years and all were subject to the approval of the Tribal Council and the individual allottee.

The 1920 contract provided specifications for the dikes to be built on the lake shore. Having profited from the experience of others who had built dikes, work was not started until the specifications were changed and a 100-foot berm left on the lake side of the dike. In June 1921, work was under contract with the Klamath Lake Diking Company, Saw Mill Engineering and Construction Company, and J. Frank Adams. Some work was done on the river side dikes with teams and scrapers. By the latter part of 1922, 231/2 miles of dikes and 51/2 miles of drains had been completed. Additional work on the dikes was done later where needed and pumping plants were installed for drainage and irrigation.

During the lease period, farming operations were not too successful but the land was improved with each year's use. The allottees wanted to sell their reclaimed land and more allotments were requested for the tribal lands. At the end of the lease period, nearly all of the tribal lands had been allotted. The only way to recover reclamation costs was to purchase the lands and have a longer period to make them more productive. Units No.3 and No.4 were never diked. It was agreed that diking cost would far exceed the value of these lands, so they were appraised and a payment made to the United States in lieu of reclamation. On July 5,1927 the Secretary of Interior approved and accepted the work provided in the contract.

The Algoma marshlands consist of about 1300 acres effectively cut off from Upper Klamath Lake by the Southern Pacific Railroad embankment.  They lie between Barkley Springs on the North and Algoma Point on the south.  The lands had been under cultivation for many years.             

Water to and from Upper Klamath served the land through two culverts, one under the S. P. track at Algoma log pond, and one under S. P. track at Barkley Springs. Also there was the Melhase canal from the Algoma log pond extending east about a mile, used for irrigation and drainage. Changes were made to offset lake regulations by providing pumps and stronger dikes near the railroad culverts.

In May 1940, however, a break along the north side of the Melhase canal flooded the entire area including State Highway 97. Suits were filed by 14 different parties, including the State Highway Commission, against Southern Pacific Railroad, Algoma Lumber Co. and Copco. Releases had been signed on 1929 to Copco, but the problem was so involved that additional releases had to be obtained before the suits were dismissed.

Again on April 17, 1953 , the Melhase canal bank failed and flooded about 820 acres north of it. The failure was due to improper maintenance, and to muskrat holes which honey- combed the canal bank. The Upper Klamath Lake level was well below the level of the break at this time.

For many years, A. Wickstrom operated two steamboats on Upper Klamath Lake , together with barges, pile driver and log-towing equipment. He barged volcanic cinders from Coon Point to Klamath Falls , towed logs from all points on the lake to lumber mills, and pumped sand from the bottom of Williamson River and barged it to Klamath Fa1ls for use in concrete.

As logging from the west side of the lake was discontinued and better sand was obtained from other sources, his activities decreased and his equipment was gradually removed from the lake.

John Linman, formerly associated with A. Wickstrom, owned two steamboats, Klamath

and Wasp, and a pile driver, boomsticks and other equipment, which was needed for towing of logs and barging freight.

In the low-water years of 1924 and 1926, Linman found it difficult to operate without heavy losses. As business was rapidly diminishing, he ceased operations in 1931.

A clam shell dredge owned by the Geary interests and operated under the name of Klamath Lake Diking Co. was a very useful piece of equipment for building dikes and drains in the reclamation of swampland areas. It was obtained from the Southern Pacific Railroad after completion of the railroad embankment across Lower Klamath Lake .

The equipment consisted of Stockton Iron Works duplex slide-drive engine, two 2-yard buckets, a spud engine and accessories. The barge was 50 feet by 120 feet with a 110-foot boom back-guyed to an A-frame. Also there were two small barges, one large oil barge, a cook-house, a small launch, and tools and repair parts. This dredger did most of the lakeshore diking on the Indian lands at the Williamson River delta.

Frank Adams owned and operated a dipper dredge with which he attempted to reclaim

a marsh area on the east side of Upper Klamath Lake , south of Algoma. He proceeded to build a dike, believing that he would obtain a lease on the lands from the United States for a time period, which would allow him to recover the costs of diking. As the American Legion was interested in reserving all unreclaimed marshland for homesteads for veterans, Adam's request for a lease and the requests of Doak and Brown for leases on other unreclaimed swampland were refused by the Secretary of Interior.  

          The Adams dike was also constructed along the shoreline of the lake without a berm on the lake side. This made it subject to erosion from wave action, but more importantly, it was also subject to destruction from ice movement on the lake. Because of these elements, part of his dike was completely leveled to original ground level and in some places it was moved 30 feet away from its original location.

Ice action was unpredictable. In the spring breakup, with a heavy wind, it would take with it logs, piling, dolphins, docks and even small islands of tules. It was known to shingle over itself to a depth of 10 to 20 feet. During extremely cold winters, ice would freeze to a thickness of 12 to 18 inches creating an unmeasurable destructive force when it started to move with a wind behind it.

The Adam's dredge was used on the Williamson River reclaimed lands for excavating inside dikes and drains. It was a Marion steam shovel mounted on a barge with a 12-yard bucket.

It was always believed by Copco that had it not proceeded with the regulation of the lake under sanction of the United States, it would have become necessary for the U. S. Government to do substantially the same work undertaken by the Company in order to protect the interests of the Klamath Reclamation Project and the interests of the Company at its power developments below Keno.

The Klamath Engineering Division was organized to facilitate the construction of Link River Dam, and all other necessary construction as well as the settlement of claims and the keeping of accurate accounting records. It was expected that the bulk of the problems and expenditures would be confined to Upper Klamath Lake and contiguous lands so Link River Dam originally marked the southern end of the Klamath Engineering Division. Subsequently, numerous downstream problems arose as a result of the regulation of the lake so the engineering division was expanded to include all necessary expenditures below the dam along Link River and Klamath River .

It was remarked by competent legal authority that possibly nowhere had there been presented more complex problems than the development of storage and regulation and control of Upper Klamath Lake . These problems were due to the different interests involved.

The U. S. Government through its several branches such as the Reclamation Service, Indian Service, Forest Service, and Biological Service, had a very definite interest in and measure of control over the lake. Also, because it was navigable, the War Department for a while believed that it had a measure of jurisdiction over it. Because of the water rights involved and located within their boundaries, the States of Oregon and California were interested as the original sovereigns.

In August 1935 a report summarized all expenditures under the contract. The contract had been in effect for 18 years, over one-third of its term, and had passed through some exhaustive procedures. It was the conclusion of Copco and Copco's attorneys that all requirements had been fulfilled and the lake had gradually been regulated to the full range of 6.3 feet.

The 1935 total costs were about $2,900,000 from which would be deducted salvage, sale of lands, equipment, etc. Based on total potential hydroelectric production capacity available in the river below Keno, these costs would be well justified.

Just what value could be placed on the benefits to riparian owners around the Upper Lake has never been determined. One item alone, the building of 29 miles of dikes and drains to reclaim about 7000 acres of swampland in the Indian Reservation delta of the Williamson River , is no small item. The value to the Klamath Irrigation Project has never been satisfactorily determined. It may be sufficient to say that all of the lands entitled to and deriving water from Upper Klamath Lake had and will have an adequate supply even in the driest years.  


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