Fish and wildlife running out of water in Klamath Basin

From Water Watch: Please act now to help the Klamath Basin’s National Wildlife Refuges!

Once again, water supply in the Klamath River Basin is falling short of the excessive demands agricultural development has placed on it.

Unfortunately for the Klamath’s National Wildlife Refuges and the fish and wildlife they support, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has now cut off water supply to the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, causing the refuge’s wetlands to shrink to fraction of the size needed to support waterfowl and fish. Refuge managers expect this refuge’s 30,000 acres of marsh and open water to go completely dry by the end of June.

Walking Wetlands at Tule Lake NWR

Meanwhile, the Reclamation’s current water management plan could allow neighboring Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge to go completely dry, putting the survival of two species of critically endangered fish at risk.

Wildlife advocates fear a repeat of last spring’s waterfowl die-off on these refuges, sparked by a lack of water, which resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 ducks, geese, and swans confined to small wetland habitats where disease quickly spread.

Astonishingly, some 22,000 acres of land originally set aside for wildlife habitat on both of these refuges is instead routinely leased to commercial agribusiness interests, and irrigators here will get water before any of it flows to wetlands or wildlife. This is an extremely damaging policy that must change.

While too much water has been promised to too many different interests in the Klamath, resulting in a nearly perpetual water crisis in the region, the Obama administration and the Bureau of Reclamation have tools to ensure adequate water is delivered to the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake refuge wetlands. But they need to hear from Oregon’s U.S. Senators that this is a priority.

A key piece of the broader solution is also to urge Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden to re-introduce bi-partisan legislation he originally crafted in 2002 to buy back water rights from willing sellers in the Klamath Basin and retire them.

Thankfully, Senator Wyden, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is holding a hearing in Washington, D.C. this Thursday, June 20th, to examine the Klamath Basin’s ongoing water crisis. Jim McCarthy, WaterWatch’s Communication Director and Southern Oregon Program Manager, will be there advocating for the kinds of solutions that will bring the Klamath’s water demand back to levels that Mother Nature can actually provide.

Please help WaterWatch get the message across, and take a moment to contact Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley! Please urge them to:

-Ensure that enough water gets to the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges this year to support the wetlands and wildlife they were established to protect.
-Pass legislation this year funding a basin-wide water demand reduction program similar to Sen. Wyden’s 2002 Farm Bill amendment for the Klamath.

Please write Senators Wyden and Merkley today!

Contact Information:
Senator Jeff Merkley
Web Contact Form
(202) 224-3753
313 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

Senator Ron Wyden
Web Contact Form
(202) 224-5244
221 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

Thank you for standing up for the Klamath Basin’s National Wildlife Refuges!

The Klamath Basin once contained over 350,000 acres of marshes, wet meadows, and shallow lakes, all threaded together by a network of rivers and streams. These extensive wetlands historically supported what may have been the largest concentration of waterfowl found anywhere in the world. A 1955 report estimated peak numbers of more than seven million waterfowl in Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges alone.

Though approximately 80% of the basin’s wetlands have been drained to provide land for irrigated agriculture, over three quarters of the waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway still funnel through the basin each year during their spring and fall migrations. The wetlands of Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges are especially critical resting and feeding areas for these migrating birds. Tens of thousands of white-fronted, snow, Ross’ and Canada geese, tundra swans, northern pintails, mallards, American wigeon, and other ducks can still be seen during the peak of migration.

To learn more about the challenges facing the Klamath Basin’s spectacular National Wildlife Refuges, and solutions to the crisis, click here.

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