No water for Lower Klamath refuge

No water for Lower Klamath refuge
Herald & News

April 10, 2015

Parched Lower Klamath NWR, Sept. 20, 2013

Parched Lower Klamath NWR, Sept. 20, 2013

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge managers plan to make the most out of the water they have now.

It’s likely they won’t get any more.

According to the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) 2015 Operations Plan released Tuesday, Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge lands only receive water from Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River when the water supply is adequate to first satisfy the demands of Klamath Project irrigators.

Water deliveries to the Klamath Project are estimated to fall short by about 135,000 acre-feet this season.

“Given the insufficient Project supply available from Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River, the BOR does not anticipate being able to make any deliveries to Lower Klamath lands in California during the 2015 irrigation season,” the plan stated.

Greg Austin, acting manager of Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, said he doesn’t expect any water to be delivered to Lower Klamath National Wildlife refuge.

“Similar to last year is what I’m expecting to see on the refuges,” Austin said.

Brian Person, acting manager for the Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Basin Area Office, said in an earlier interview that water managers and scientists will revisit water availability in May and June.

According to Austin, the 53,000-acre Lower Klamath refuge last received water deliveries from the Klamath River in November 2013.

Austin said he does not anticipate Lower Klamath having any permanent marsh this summer.

“With less water, we will be growing fewer food plants for the birds so we won’t have as much habitat,” he said.

WaterWatch of Oregon Spokesman Jim McCarthy said the zero allocation sets the refuge’s waterfowl on a path to disaster.

“Since 2012, tens of thousands of birds on these refuges have died for lack of water as a result of decisions made by the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees both the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With few wetland acres available due to lack of water, large numbers of waterfowl pack together during migration periods, leading to lethal disease outbreaks. Refuge staff estimated that some 20,000 birds perished this way in 2014. Similar conditions on these refuges sparked massive waterfowl die-offs in 2012 and 2013,” he said.

Arran Robertson, a spokesman for Oregon Wild, said the Klamath refuges continue to be refuges in name only.

“While persistent drought is becoming an unfortunate reality for everyone in the Basin, wildlife won’t be cashing any emergency relief checks and what water the refuges hold the right to won’t even be used for wildlife. Instead, it will be allocated to agriculture on refuge land, while right next door thousands of birds die and endangered fish rocket toward extinction,” he said.

In October, refuge managers transferred about 12,000 acre-feet of water from Tule Lake refuge to Lower Klamath. Austin said the water was put on units containing standing grain from last year, and at the peak, the refuge had about 3,500 acres of wetlands. He said right now, water is covering about 2,500 acres of wetlands.

“In this limited water year, we are doing our best to grow both seasonal wetland plants and small grain crops,” Austin said. “We may be able to hold onto about 1,000 acres of wetlands until mid-summer.”