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Fish & Wildlife weighs drawdown of 10k acre feet from lower refuge

Over the next month, U.S. Fish and Wildlife will weigh whether to take an estimated 10,000 acre feet of water from the Lower Klamath Basin Refuge for use by Basin irrigators facing a devastating drought.

Paul Souza, regional director for Fish and Wildlife’s Pacific Southwest region said the measure is one of a variety of ways the federal agency is trying to make things work for irrigators who are trying to plan for their crops this year.

Souza served as one of three panelists during a Bureau of Reclamation-hosted meeting Friday that drew at least 180 people to the Klamath County Fairgrounds.

“There’s water in the refuge but it’s at varying depths and so we can’t say with 100 percent certainty what the number would be but I’m hopeful it would be in the area of 10,000 acre feet,” Souza said, adding that the amount would be allocated over an unspecified period of time.

“We still haven’t made that choice yet. There’s a lot of moving parts and pieces, and we want to be sure we’re not taking a step that would harm the refuge in a long-term way.

“There are some elevation issues so it’s not like you would go to a faucet and turn it on. You actually have to pump water against elevation in some cases. It would be not a long-term process, but it would take weeks,” Souza said.

Refuge Complex Manager Greg Austin and Souza would make the final call on whether to go forward.

“He and I, with my leadership team in Sacramento, will be making that call,” Souza said. “It’s a key part of the Pacific Flyway and it’s especially important for the Southern migration, from the breeding grounds to the wintering habitat.”

“It’s a jewel,” Souza added.

Souza said he’s asking his personnel to evaluate all projected impacts to fish and wildlife at the refuge if and when water is taken from it.

“Obviously, we need to know what those impacts would be,” Souza said. “That’s why we’re looking at it right now. But I’m expecting that as early as late next week, my folks will be able to give me a briefing on that.”

“If it’s going to be a long-term negative impact, then that’s going to give us real concern, and may lead in our decision not to take that step,” Souza said. “If it’s a short-term impact, that could be fixed in a matter of months, that’s a very different scenario.”

Souza said another important consideration for the agency is having enough water for the refuge in the fall, when the southern migration of the Pacific Flyway occurs.

“It would be our hope that if we provided this generosity in this difficult time that we could receive some water in the fall,” Souza said. “We want to be helpful to this community.”


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              Page Updated: Thursday March 15, 2018 01:36 AM  Pacific

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