More water for irrigators means more for refuges
But allotment is still less than half what refuge
Water is flowing into the Lower Klamath National
Wildlife Refuge, where dry conditions led to an outbreak of avian
cholera that killed thousands of birds last month, but it remains
unclear how long the refuge will remain wet.
The Tule Lake
National Wildlife Refuge, on the other hand, is expected to have
water all summer long.
The Bureau of
Reclamationís Klamath Basin area office released its 2012 Operations
Plan Friday, which said there would be 15,000 acre-feet of water
available for the Lower Klamath refuge from April through September.
Thatís an improvement over earlier expectations, but far short of
the 36,000 acre-feet the refuge could optimally use in that time,
said Matt Baun, a spokesman with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The inflowing water
will help provide more habitat for migratory birds during the
upcoming nesting season at Lower Klamath, said Dave Mauser, wildlife
biologist at the refuge. But without water deliveries late in the
summer the Lower Klamath refuge, which straddles the
Oregon-California border, will likely be dry by the time the fall
waterfowl migration begins in September, he said.
The Tule Lake refuge
gets water as part of an agreement with the Tulelake Irrigation
District and, unlike Lower Klamath, does not require a specific
allotment from the Bureau of Reclamation.
The Bureauís annual
operations plan forecasts irrigation water supply, lake levels
and river flows for the coming year. It was
unknown when exactly water will be delivered to the refuge and the
amount could change depending on weather conditions, said Kevin
Moore, spokesman with the Bureauís Klamath Basin area office.
A lack of water
exacerbated the avian cholera outbreak that killed an estimated
10,000 birds at the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake refuges in March,
wildlife officials said. Lower Klamath was about 50 percent dry at
that time, leaving birds in a more condensed area where disease
spreads faster. Now the refuge is about 65 percent wet and the
disease outbreak has slowed, Mauser said.
A significant and
welcomed increase in precipitation over the past six weeks made
water available for the refuge. The Bureau began releasing water ó up to 400 acre-feet a
day ó from the Klamath River to the refuge in mid-March.
ďThere is an
abundance of water available to us now and we are taking as much as
we can to make up for a dry fall,Ē Mauser said.
But water could
become scarce as irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project soon
will begin drawing water for their fields. The refuges are last in
line to get a share of water, after certain amounts are held in
Upper Klamath Lake for endangered suckers, sent downriver for
endangered coho salmon and taken by irrigators.
As much water as
possible will be retained at the Lower Klamath refuge, but
inevitably much ó up to 3 1/2 feet ó will evaporate, Baun said.
Project irrigators will receive less than their full allotment of
water, but more than was expected a month ago, according to the
Bureau of Reclamationís 2012 Operations Plan released last week.
Upper Klamath Lake
is expected to supply 310,000 acre-feet of irrigation water to the
Project, according to the report. In a normal year, Project
irrigators draw more than 400,000 acrefeet from the lake.
Irrigators on the
east side of the Project, who draw water from Gerber Reservoir and
Clear Lake Reservoir, also will receive nearly a full allotment of
water. Gerber will support full water deliveries and Clear Lake will
support 80 percent of average water deliveries, according to the
Despite a relatively
dry winter, Upper Klamath Lake is brimming and snowpack in the
region is deeper than average. With that in mind, some irrigation
officials have said there should be no reason farmers and ranchers
canít take their full allotment of water this year. Others said the
Bureauís estimates on water availability were conservative.
Snowpack in the
Klamath Basin Monday was 106 percent of historical average, up from
67 percent March 1.