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As It Was: California Covets Upper Klamath Basin Water

The need for more water in the Central Valley of California has generated countless headlines over the years, and officials there have frequently looked as far as Southeastern Oregon for possible sources of water supplies.

The Upper Klamath Basin was still frontier territory in 1858 when the French-language newspaper Le Phare in San Francisco published a story about abundant water supplies to be found north of the state line.  The newspaper speculated that Upper Klamath Lake was one possible source of water that could be easily diverted to the Sacramento River Basin, increasing the river’s ability to support navigation.

Other Klamath Basin lakes mentioned as possible sources of water for Central California included Rett Lake, known today as Tule Lake, and Wright Lake, present-day Clear Lake in Modoc County.

As it turned out, the Klamath Basin’s lakes are relatively shallow, but proposals to divert water to the Sacramento River Basin continued to emerge over the years.

By the 1990s, the needs of endangered fish in the Klamath River watershed finally put an end to any thought of diverting what is now recognized as a precious resource.

Source: "Interior Navigation of California." San Francisco Bulletin, 11 Mar. 1858, p. 1. Newspapers.com. Accessed 15 Mar. 2018

Todd Kepple has been a Klamath Basin resident since 1990. He was a reporter and editor the for the Herald and News from 1990 to 2005, and has been manager of the Klamath County Museum since 2005. He enjoys volunteering at Crater Lake National Park, the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also a founding member of the Klamath Tree League.