By Courtney Sherwood

PORTLAND Ore. (Reuters) - Record drought on the U.S. West Coast has exposed the ruins of an Oregon hamlet once submerged under the waters of a man-made reservoir, allowing a rare opportunity for an archaeological excavation, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation official said on Thursday.

The tiny community of Klamath Junction was once home to two gas stations and a cluster of homes and other buildings that date back to the 1920s, but its residents were relocated and the structures inundated as part of a 1960 irrigation project that extended a reservoir known as Emigrant Lake.

"We want to determine if there's historic significance at the site," including whether to add the site to the National Register of Historic Places, said Douglas DeFlitch, an Oregon field office manager for the bureau. "One man's treasure is another man's trash."

California has been suffering under its worst drought on record while swaths of Oregon and Washington state to the north were also seeing abnormally dry conditions, which have brought a busy wildfire season and prompted efforts to limit water usage.

This year's drought has drained Emigrant Lake, near Ashland in southern Oregon, of about 90 percent of its water, leaving boat ramps dry, turning the lake bed into a mucky plain and revealing building foundations, debris and scattered tools at the site, DeFlitch said.

Oregon law requires sites more than 50 years old to be assessed for historical significance and any health hazards, such as oil leaks, before volunteers can be called in to help clear remains, DeFlitch said.

DeFlitch said he expects to have the results of the archaeological and hazardous materials reviews within the month.

Klamath Junction may have been partially exposed during a previous drought in 1994, but Bureau of Reclamation officials was not able to inspect the site at the time, he said.

 

(Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Eric Walsh)