'Rockin' in the Klamath Basin
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
September 26, 2005
By LEE JUILLERAT
Margi Jenks looks for water by studying rocks.
She's not a mystic, she's a geologist. Or maybe she's both, and
a whole lot more.
"I drive around in a pickup truck and beat on rocks," she says,
chuckling at herself. "I'm also a historic explorer of the earth
- I like to mess with discovering what's the genealogy of these
H&N photo by Lee Juillerat Geologist Margi Jenks
examines a rock in the Pothole Butte region east of
Crater Lake National Park. She collects samples which
will be sent to a laboratory for more study.
This summer the genealogist/geologist/time-traveler has been
tramping through selected areas of the Klamath Basin doing
geologic mapping for the Oregon Department of Geology and
Jenks did her first tour of field work from April to mid-July,
then returned to Portland. Round two started in early September.
In mid-November, or whenever the snows push her out, she'll head
back to Portland to compile her findings.
Working mostly by herself, she picks study sites from
generalized geologic maps done by the U.S. Geologic Survey in
the 1980s and 90s. Her region is vast - spanning from the
Oregon-California border north to the Klamath Marsh, and from
Gerber Reservoir west to Pelican Butte - and focuses on studying
sites that might provide clues to underground water storage.
"Ground water works within a geologic framework. How much water
do we have? How much can we pump without drying out the
source?," she asks rhetorically. "Your hydrology modeling is
only as good as your geological framework. The water people
still need an integrated geological map for the entire Basin."
Jenks says the best places to drill producing wells are often
found by studying the underground geology.
"It's diagnosis," Jenks says of her work. "It's looking at what
you can observe and making a considered judgment based on that.
A lot of times I can't figure it out. There are some things
you're never going to know."
This day she's meandering around the Pothole Butte region east
of Crater Lake National Park. Using a GPS and intuition, she
hikes away from her pickup truck in search of geologic features
revealed by USGS maps. At a rock outcrop above a seasonal
stream, she tugs a hammer off her belt and whacks at selected
stones. After studying the rock and collecting her thoughts, she
transfers data from her GPS to a laptop computer, writes in her
notebook, and wraps rock samples that will be sent to a
laboratory for more study.
She's curious about what exists now, and what came before.
"I am fascinated by the history of the earth and how it's
changed over time."
Her fascination with geology began when she was a history major
at McAllister College in St. Paul, Minn.
"I was a midwestern kid who'd never heard of this stuff," she
remembers of taking a required-to-graduate science course. "Then
I discovered we got to go on field trips."
Unusually, her field trips have continued.
"The number of women who do what I do and are my age you can
count on both hands," the 53-year-old Jenks says. "It's fun. I
have license to go all over the country."
During her self-proclaimed "checkered" geology career, which has
been interrupted by marriage and motherhood, she did geologic
consulting for the timber industry for 12 years. Before and
after earning a master's degree in geology from the University
of Idaho, Jenks worked as a private consultant. For three of
those years, from 1999 to 2002, she did contract seismic studies
in the Klamath Falls area.
She believes that geologic mapping is fundamental in dealing
with the Klamath Basin's ongoing water concerns.
"I don't have an axe to grind. I would like to see decisions
made on the best scientific evidence available. You can't go
around cutting off somebody's livelihood based on a model that
might not be so good," Jenks says. "You can get water out of
clay, but it's like sipping a milkshake with a cocktail straw."
During 2001, she voluntarily worked with farmers drilling wells.
Of the 24 sites she recommended, 18 met or exceeded
expectations, two had moderate water and four were
"You look at the landscape now and it's not like it was 2 or 3
million years ago," Jenks says of the fascination and
frustration of being a time-traveling geologic genealogist. "I
want to know how it fits in the bigger picture. It is this great
puzzle to figure out - how a landscape came to be the way it is