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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Informational sheet by Ron Cole,  
Project Leader, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges
May 24, 2004

Through the cooperative efforts of Federal Agencies and diverse stakeholders the refuge is now uniquely positioned to help wildlife on several fronts. Below is a summary as to how:

1. The water release is a voluntary action by the refuge. The Service believes all natural resources (fish, waterbirds or wetlands and riparian/riverine systems) of the Klamath Basin need sound stewardship. The release of 8,500 ac.ft is part of a collaborative approach involving multiple agencies and stakeholders in working toward a stewardship effort that benefits migratory birds, anadromous fish, wetlands and rivers. The 8,500 ac.ft. of water that is moving from the refuge to the Klamath River has passed through and been filtered by thousands of acres of natural refuge wetlands.

2. Removing this water from Lower Klamath at this particular time is good for refuge wildlife. This year, Lower Klamath NWR has accumulated sufficient water through the winter and spring such that we can release up to 8,500 ac.ft. to the river while providing spring and early summer wetland habitats for wildlife. The refuge must dry up these areas where the 8,500 ac.ft of water now sits so that those particular habitats will produce the native seed plants needed by fall and spring migrating waterfowl and waterbirds. These "seasonally flooded wetlands" mimic historic, natural processes. Simply put, portions of wetlands are dried up each summer, native plants then germinate and grow seeds, the seeds ripen and then the areas are re-flooded in the fall to attract and feed millions of migrating birds.

3. Sending refuge water down the Klamath River at this time in exchange for water to refuge wetlands this summer and fall is good for fish and migratory birds. Millions of young salmon smolt are beginning to migrate down the Klamath River right now. Water released from refuge seasonal wetlands will benefit these young fish on their journey to the ocean. Millions of nesting and migratory waterfowl, waterbirds, and other aquatic life that depend on the refuges will benefit from timely water deliveries this summer and fall.

4. If the refuge does not remove this water at this time, salt accumulation problems will threaten wetland productivity. This type of drawdown, or "seasonal marsh management", was employed successfully on portions of Lower Klamath NWR for decades. Unfortunately, for the past several years because of limited water deliveries in the summer and fall, the refuge has been compelled to hold and re-circulate any water which it received in the winter and spring. The refuge also had to take water from critically important permanent wetlands to augment fall flood-up. The continued recirculation of water the past few years has created salt accumulation problems which threaten the long-term productivity of the seasonally flooded refuge wetlands.

5. This is a unique opportunity for a variety of partners to do something good for wildlife and seek solutions to the Klamath Basin water challenge. The BOR and FWS have a signed agreement which states that the BOR will make their best effort to replenish the water the refuge releases. Partners such as Audubon, California Waterfowl Association, the Klamath Water Users, local growers and others, will help the Refuge maintain our permanent wetlands and provide summer and fall water, benefiting millions of fall migrants and other species such as pelicans, turtles, wading birds, nesting waterfowl, and a variety of wildlife dependent upon these wetlands.

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