DWR’s Northern District
Helps Bring Water To Drought Stricken Klamath Basin
By Roger Canfield
Six weeks after the Governor’s May 4, 2001 declaration of a drought emergency in the Upper Klamath River Basin, wells drilled under the supervision of the Department of Water Resources were bringing some relief to parched areas of Siskiyou and Modoc counties.
Working with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES), DWR mobilized equipment and personnel to drill thousands of feet into the earth, past stingy dry sediments and impermeable clays, into water-friendly fractured rock. Some of the water was found in hundreds of feet of broken rock nearly a half mile below the high desert surface.
With most of the 10 wells producing 9,000-10,000 gallons per minute (gpm), and one well yielding 12,000 gpm, it was realized that bigger pipes and special-order pumps would be needed. “You don’t get 10,000 gpm pumps off the shelf,” said DWR engineering geologist Noel Eaves.
The 10 wells, including pumps, collectively have cost $5 million. The money came from State Natural Disaster Assistance Funds administered by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Title 19 of the California Code of Regulations.
In a broader program, the Department is working with other agencies researching the groundwater resource in the Klamath Basin in order to supplement scarce surface water supplies for agriculture and wildlife in the future. For DWR’s Northern District, this is an effort that began years ago.
“It took an emergency to draw attention to it, but we’ve been working 15 years on this,” said Bill Mendenhall, Chief of the Northern District’s Resource Assessment Branch.
How DWR Brought Water to the Party
Three weeks after Governor Davis issued a drought emergency proclamation at the request of Modoc and Siskiyou counties, DWR groundwater specialists began coordinating the drilling of wells. A well siting committee staffed by DWR, the Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) and OES identified 14 promising well sites and DWR engineered the basic well designs and expedited environmental and archaeological reviews.
“I was amazed at how fast things got done,” said DWR Research Analyst Pat Parsons.
Using the Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS), which instantly provides a command structure to meet logistical and other needs, DWR’s Northern District moved quickly in response to the Governor’s emergency proclamation. “This was not an eight – to – five job,” said Northern District Chief Dwight Russell. “Our team put themselves out day after day, working months on end at peak energy levels.”
Russell praised the skills of his staff geologists, engineers, and others who helped choose the well sites and watched over environmental, cultural, water quality, aquifer stability, and other issues.
“We had the skills on the spot where they were needed,” Russell said.
Among those at the center of the action were Noel Eaves and Mike Ward of Northern District’s Groundwater Section. Technical staff members of the groundwater section that logged long days, including weekends, in the Tulelakearea included Associate Engineering Geologists Dan McManus, Kelly Staton, and Debbie Spangler; Engineering Geologist Bill Ehorn; Junior Engineering Technician April Scholzen; Civil Engineer Seth Lawrence; Water Resources Engineer Sean Dunbar; Graduate Student Assistant Greg Dwyer; and Engineering Student Assistant John Ayres. The field staff collected geologic and hydrologic data from well sites, oversaw compliance with government regulations, monitored groundwater levels in grids around each new well to measure any impacts on existing wells, and worked with local well owners to mitigate any impacts.
DWR provided technical advice while the Lang Drilling Company, working under contract with TID, completed wells ranging in depth from 571 to 2,380 feet. Nimbus Engineering provided project management around the clock.
DWR moved one well site to protect a Native American cultural site, and at another site relocated a mud pit to protect bank swallows that had taken up residence in a freshly dug pit.
“It was really good to work with DWR,” said Earl Danosky, Executive Director of TID. “DWR was looking out for our interests on environmental, cultural, and other issues.”
Jessica Salinas, a Northern District Associate Land and Water Use Analyst who served as an Information Officer under the SEMS process, responded to media inquiries from throughout the United States, as well as to the concerns of Klamath Basin residents.
“It ‘really hits home’ to read and answer mail from people who in some cases are losing their family farm,” Salinas said. Yet, she said, “DWR received incredibly positive comments…no negatives.”
DWR’s well drilling “brought the first light of hope” to some people in the drought-stricken area, said Mike Ward. “There is immense appreciation for DWR. We gained trust.”
Graduate student John Ayres said there was “a steady stream of local residents watching us log samples on the ground. The local network seemed to know everything about every well.”
DWR’s entire Northern District staff, whether posted to the field or at District headquarters in Red Bluff, pitched in to support the Department’s response to the Klamath Basin water shortage. Toccoy Dudley, a Senior Engineering Geologist and Chief of the Groundwater Section, kept his shop open for regular business while most of his staff was concentrating on the Klamath Basin project. Pat Parsons created the crucial Klamath Basin groundwater maps, assisted by GIS Student Assistant Dorothy Watkins. Engineering Student Assistant Nicole Martin organized the mass of data collected at the well sites. Environmental Specialists Dave Boegner and Perry LeBeouf worked in Tulelake. Earl Hansen, a retired annuitant and Water Resources Engineer, provided technical assistance.
Water was first struck at Well #1 located at Hill and Kandra roads in Tulelake. The first well, and those that followed, exceeded initial yield estimates.
The original goal of 30,000 gpm from 14 wells was achieved with four wells. With the 10th well, the estimated annual production jumped to 70,000-80,000 gpm, calculated at almost 10 percent of the Klamath Project’s annual production. Further, the well production suggests that the Tulelake area has one or more deep aquifers that could provide a long-term supplemental groundwater source to provide water for agriculture, wildlife and emergency topsoil protection during future droughts.
While bringing home the water, DWR also ensured that the wells would be monitored for possible impacts on neighboring wells, aquifer levels, and water quality.
For details of progress on well drilling and groundwater studies, please see the DWR Northern District Web page at
Klamath a short story
By Roger Canfield
Water has always been precious in this high desert. The federal water projects, begun in 1907, were preceded by 25 years of private ditch companies watering thousands of acres. The Klamath area is rich in frontier and water history. Here the Hudson’s Bay Company trapped beavers, John C. Fremont explored, and the Modoc Indian war captured the nation’s attention. Only five years after the Modoc War ended with the U.S. Army execution of Modoc leaders Captain Jack and Boston Charley, in 1882 a private company, Linkville Ditch Company, dug a two-mile ditch from the Link River to town lots. Private digging for irrigation, and power continued apace from 1882 through 1904.