Volume 3 | Feb. 24, 2021
Save Lower Klamath!
A California Waterfowl e-newsletter about the fight for water for Lower Klamath
California Waterfowl has been working aggressively to solve the water crisis at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, but we haven't sent a newsletter for a while because we haven't had developments to report. Until now.

Our primary goals remain the same: Securing high-priority water rights for the refuge and securing an agreement to distribute water more equitably in the Klamath Basin.
Aerial photo of the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge taken from Sheepy West looking north over Unit 2, which has the only water
on the refuge. Photo taken Feb. 21, 2021, by Elizabeth Higgins.
Environmental Assessment is a necessary first step
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a draft environmental assessment evaluating options for acquiring water rights for the Lower Klamath refuge. It is accepting comments on the document through March 14.

California Waterfowl’s Lower Klamath Task Force is working hard to facilitate a water rights transfer from a group of individual ranchers who want to help Lower Klamath. Specifically, we are working to raise private funds for the transfer, and advocating for federal and state funding.

CWA will comment on the draft environmental assessment, and we encourage supporters to do the same.

All indications are that the Lower Klamath NWR will not receive any water deliveries at all during 2021.

This sets the stage for a poor waterfowl breeding season in what should be the state’s most productive breeding area, precious little habitat for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds this spring and fall, and – if summer temperatures are high – a repeat of the devastating 2020 avian botulism outbreak.

Snowpack and other precipitation are below normal for the region, and the Klamath Tribes are threatening to sue to keep more water in Upper Klamath Lake to protect the spawning of the endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers.

What we learned from the botulism outbreak
The 2020 avian botulism outbreak in the Klamath Basin was a demoralizing horror show for everyone involved, from those who fought to curb its spread by picking up rotting bird corpses, to those who have been fighting to get more water for Lower Klamath.

However, the outbreak did provide some really interesting data about where the victims came from, and where they were headed.

How so? Because 127 of the dead had been banded at some point earlier in their lives - mostly in California - and because 834 ducks that were successfully treated at the "Duck Hospital" at Lower Klamath were banded before their release. Of those later harvested by hunters, the vast majority ended up in California.

Click here for a sneak preview of our look at this data in the Spring issue of California Waterfowl magazine.
Preview: Klamath update in the upcoming issue of California Waterfowl.

Excerpt: "The past year was in some ways the worst year ever for the Lower Klamath refuge: only enough water to flood approximately 2,000 acres during breeding and molting season; a botulism outbreak that killed at least 60,000 birds; the breakdown of talks among all water users about a comprehensive redistribution of water; and the lowest bird numbers ever in October.

"In other ways, though, 2020 provided rays of hope for the long-term restoration of the refuge’s water supply."

Biological opinions and how they hurt LKNWR
One of the federal policy actions driving the lack of water for the Lower Klamath NWR is the development of biological opinions that allocate water in the Klamath Basin under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently does not require that the needs of migrating, breeding and molting waterfowl also be met through allocations in the biological opinions.

CWA Director of Water Law and Policy Jeffrey A. Volberg explains - click here to read more.
Our partners and allies
Solving a problem as big as the Lower Klamath crisis can only be done in concert with a team of all-star partners and allies, starting with Klamath Basin farmers who are also struggling to get sufficient water, but nonetheless move heaven and earth to get more water to the refuge. This most notably includes the Tulelake Irrigation District, Klamath Irrigation District and the Klamath Water Users Association.

A host of conservation organizations are also part of the effort: Audubon, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, Sustainable Northwest and The Nature Conservancy.

We also rely heavily on information and voluntary efforts by local hunters in the Klamath Basin, most notably the Cal-Ore Wetlands and Waterfowl Council. Volunteers within Cal-Ore have done much to help improve habitat and hunting conditions on the refuge and pick up birds sickened or killed by avian botulism, among other important actions.

We are also grateful to all who have donated to our effort to save Lower Klamath, with contributions ranging from $25 to $25,000.
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