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More water for irrigators means more for refuges 

 

But allotment is still less than half what refuge needs 

 

By JOEL ASCHBRENNER 

H&N Staff Reporter

April 10, 2012

 

Photo courtesy of Dave Menke  Geese fly at the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The refuges will get more water than expected this year, but still only half of what is needed.

 

     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.

 

Side Bar

 

WATER ON THE PROJECT   

 

   Klamath Reclamation 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 report.

 

   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.  

 
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