Upper Klamath Lake is a large (140 square-mile), shallow (mean depth about 8 ft) lake in south-central Oregon that the historical record indicates has been eutrophic since its discovery by non-Native Americans. In recent decades, however, the lake has had annual occurrences of near- monoculture blooms of the blue-green alga Aphanizomenon flos-aquae. In 1988 two sucker species endemic to the lake, the Lost River sucker (Deltistes luxatus) and the shortnose sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris), were listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and it has been proposed that the poor water quality conditions associated with extremely long and productive blooms are contributing to the decline of those species. It has also been proposed that the low lake levels made possible by the construction of a dam at the outlet from the lake in 1921 have contributed to worsening water quality through a variety of possible mechanisms (Jacob Kann, Klamath Tribes, written commun., 1995). One such mechanism would be an increase in internal phosphorus loading from resuspended sediments (Jacoby and others, 1982), resulting from an increase in bottom shear stresses at lower lake levels (Laenen and LeTourneau, 1996), leading in turn to more intense algal blooms. Another possible mechanism is an earlier triggering of algal blooms. When early spring lake levels are low, greater light intensity at the sediment surface might speed recruitment of algal cells from the sediments. Sediment recruitment has been shown to be an important contributor to water column biomass increases in A. flos aquae (Barbiero and Kann, 1994) and Gloeotrichia echinulata (Barbiero, 1993). An earlier bloom could result in poor water quality conditions occurring earlier in the year, when young-of-the-year fish may be more susceptible to those conditions. Lake level can also influence water quality directly. An increased frequency of sediment resuspension at lower lake levels could increase chemical and biological oxygen demand, resulting in decreased dissolved oxygen concentrations. Sediment oxygen demand also may be enhanced at lower lake levels because it is concentrated over a smaller volume of water. Some compensation for increased oxygen demand at lower lake levels might be provided by increased reaeration, if the water column mixes from top to bottom more frequently. Based on the analysis of data that they have been collecting for several years, the Klamath Tribes recently recommended that the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) modify the operating plan for the dam to make the minimum lake levels for the June-August period more closely resemble pre-dam conditions (Jacob Kann, written commun., 1995). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was asked to analyze the available data for the lake and to assess whether the evidence exists to conclude that year-to-year differences in certain lake water-quality variables are related to year-to-year differences in lake level. The results of the analysis will be used as scientific input in the process of developing an operating plan for the Link River Dam.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Relation between selected water-quality variables and lake level in Upper Klamath and Agency Lakes, Oregon
Water-Resources Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey ;
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