According to a Mar. 27 press release from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), “The letter signers urged Salazar to direct the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to take immediate measures to ensure that water is provided this year to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge’s seasonal and permanent marshes, and to maintain lake levels needed to sustain two species of endangered fish in Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.”
The letter to Salazar also questions the 2010 decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to allow Tule Lake to go dry.
“That summer, with no prior public discussion or legally required scientific analysis, the Bureau of Reclamation requested (and was later granted by the Klamath Falls U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s field supervisor) an exemption from their Endangered Species Act requirements to maintain the flow of water into Tule Lake to sustain endangered fish populations,” the release stated.
According to the CBD release, “Rather than pursue water conservation by agricultural interests, the agencies trapped and evicted endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers from the lake.”
According to a Feb. 10, 2012 memo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), “Water has not been delivered to the Refuge since Dec. 2, 2011, leaving the Refuge in the driest condition entering spring migration in over 70 years.
The letter to Salazar, however, states that, the Lower Klamath refuge began receiving a limited amount of water from the Ady Canal on March 19. But the letter says, “so far this has only been enough water to flood but few hundred acres of parched refuge wetlands.”
In the form of short-term goals, the letter asks Salazar to insure that BOR:
1. Deliver at least 20,000
to 25,000 acre-feet of water
to the Lower Klamath
National Wildlife Refuge
this spring to keep marshes
2. See that water is delivered in time to allow refuge managers to use it appropriately to manage wetland habitat.
3. Ensure that critical habitat for endangered fish in Tule Lake does not fall below legally mandated minimum water levels this summer, and that no program to evict the fish from their habitat in Tule Lake, or elsewhere, is instituted.
The letter to Salazar also claims that the loss of wetlands in the refuges has and will have negative effects on the ecosystem of the Klamath River downstream, stating that wetlands serve as a natural filter for nutrients and pollution.
The signatories to the letter contend that the loss of these wetlands continues to result in not only the loss of critically important habitat for wildlife, but also severe water quality and water quantity problems for salmon and other fish in the Klamath River.
“Historically, the wetlands of the Klamath Basin provided an important buffer against floods and droughts, absorbing spring run-off and providing clean, cool water to the Klamath River,” the letter said.
District 5 Supervisor Marcia Armstrong said, “It is important to realize that without the farms, there is no food for the birds to eat.”
Armstrong said the Klamath Compact priorities of water use place domestic use and irrigation use as the top two priorities followed by recreational use, including use for fish and wildlife, followed by industrial use and the generation of hydroelectric power.
“This was the agreement signed by both states and approved by Congress back in the 1950s,” Armstrong said.
According to Jacqui Krizo, a Tulelake basin farmer on the Klamath Project who manages the (correction: KlamathBasinCrisis.org) website, “Tulelake basin was historically a lake in a closed basin; the water had no way to escape. So when our government needed food after the World Wars, they rerouted the water into canals and reservoirs and built a tunnel through Sheepy Ridge to pump the water through the mountain and into Lower Klamath refuges, which ends up in Klamath River.”
Regarding the possibility of the Tule Lake refuge drying up, Krizo said, “USFWS does not pay to pump the water through the mountain. Tulelake irrigators pay the entire cost, hundreds of thousands of dollars in power bills. So, if farms receive water, the (correction, add > 'Tule Lake' refuge receives water.”
Krizo said, “Buying-out water rights will dewater fields. Dewatering fields means that neighboring fields must use more water to irrigate. As we learned from the water shutoff in 2001, when fields and ditches go dry, our aquifer’s water level drops significantly.”
According to Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) the problem is that “There are a lot of competing interests out there for this water.” He said, “In terms of farmers giving up water in an already dry year - It’s just not going to happen.”
Addington, who’s group supports the Klamath settlement agreements that are part of the proposal to remove four dams on the river, said if those agreements were implemented their provisions would alleviate this problem.