, guest commentary in Herald and News 10/6/13.
Read is Klamath Wildlife Advocate at Oregon Wild. She is an
environmental attorney, licensed to practice in California.
KBC NOTE: Read's spin is mostly untrue. The
Tule Lake wildlife refuge was quite full this
summer. Lower Klamath, as
acknowledged by Refuge
Manager Ron Cole, was without water because of the
high power costs that are borne by leaseland
farmers, with over 2000% higher power rate. Tule
Lake refuge was in a closed basin, but presently
irrigators must pump uphill the water through a
mountain and into Lower Klamath Refuge, then to
Klamath River, at their own expense. Historically
this water remained in Tule Lake.
"There are (489) species of wildlife here in the Klamath Basin. The
biological opinion deals with three." Ph. D. Robert McLandress, UC Davis ecology.
HERE FOR AUDIO.
Here in the Pacific Flyway, "...Klamath Basin is the most important waterfowl area in North America. Waterfowl eat 70 million pounds of food here, and more than half comes from the farms.
After a summer of punishing
drought in the Klamath Basin, the irrigation season is
drawing to a close. The worst appears to be behind us — at
least until next year.
Before the memory of this
painfully dry summer fades, it’s worth taking stock of
where we are — the irrigators, tribes, wildlife
advocates, fishermen and others with a stake in the
debate over water.
There’s still not enough of
this precious resource to go around. The Klamath Basin
Task Force process is mired in internal conflict and
struggling to reach consensus. The
Restoration Agreement (KBRA)
is in limbo. And the
National Wildlife Refuges of the Klamath Basin continue
This year’s drought took a
heavy toll on Klamath Basin’s refuges, the birds, fish
and amphibians that call them home. By the end of
Lower Klamath National
had less than 200 acres of marshes left in an area that
should sustain over 31,000 acres of wetlands.
On nearby Tule Lake
National Wildlife Refuge, the shortage of wetlands
forced birds into crowded conditions and spawned a
lethal outbreak of avian botulism. U.S. Fish & Wildlife
picked up more than 6,000 dead birds, but officials
estimate total deaths were more than twice that number.
And in the upper Basin, on
Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge — the only refuge
that actually had water for wildlife — Fish and Wildlife
Service staff caved to political pressure and allowed a
rancher to turn his cows loose on public lands that are
supposed to be permanently protected for wildlife. They
did so without any public notice, or even a real plan
for managing the cattle once they were loose on the
All of this while the U.S.
Department of the Interiors insists on continuing the
controversial program of leasing public land on National
Wildlife Refuges to private agribusiness interests, even
in drought years.
On Tule Lake National
Wildlife Refuge, the summer of 2013 saw commercial row
crops on the leaselands receiving full or near-full
water deliveries, while adjacent wetlands went dry.
America’s National Wildlife
Refuges deserve better. This is our natural heritage.
Why aren’t we as a community angrier about this?
Over a decade has passed
since the drought and water crisis of 2001, and the
tragic Klamath River
fish kill of
It is clear there is no
silver bullet that can solve the water woes of the
Klamath Basin. It is time to move on from a water policy
that simply shifts the burden of the next drought to
someone else, or depends on Congress approving a massive
bailout worth hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
What the Klamath Basin
needs are affordable, workable solutions that begin to
bring the demand for water back into balance with what
nature can actually supply.
Though the Klamath Basin
Task Force is well-intentioned, internal conflicts make
it unlikely to produce any realistic proposals. The Task
Force, like others before it, is too focused on reviving
old agreements that Congress will never fund. Recent
comments by Rep. Greg Walden, who has hinted that the
KBRA is dead and it is time to focus on smaller, less
expensive proposals, underscore this fact.
And smaller, more realistic
solutions are easy to find.
The National Wildlife
Refuges were severely abused in this year’s drought, but
they could offer a way to prevent a repeat of this
tragedy. Simply phasing out the lease land program on
Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges
would free up nearly 16 billion gallons — water that
could be used to restore wetlands for wildlife and take
pressure off other irrigators. Managing these refuges at
wetlands also would provide a cost-effective way of
capturing and storing winter and spring run-off.
There is simply not enough
water to go around in the Klamath Basin. It’s a system
under tremendous strain, with too much water promised to
too many interests. Ignoring this reality only ensures
that we will repeat the events of this summer in
Ending the lease-land
program won’t solve all the Basin’s problems, but it is
a start. After a decade of inaction, and the punishing
drought of 2013, the Klamath Basin needs action, not
more delay and wishful thinking.