Agreement guarantees refuges water
defends the Endangered Species Act and the involved National
Environment Protection Act, which are often seen as
obstacles....“They allow citizens the right to work for
solutions, not to stop achieving solutions.”
“Throwing our hands up and saying, ‘let’s go to court,’
is not a solution. The time to solve the problem is here,”
(Mauser) says. (KBC NOTE:
An author and person at the table of the closed-door Klamath
Settlement Craig Tucker is on the board of Riverkeeper who
opposes the agreement and
promises to litigate if their demands are not met.)
By Lee Juillerat, Herald and News October 16, 2009
photo by Lee Juillerat Ron Cole stands by a nearly waterless marsh
that he says can be better managed if the Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement is implemented.
Every fall, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges staff members
wonder when the call will come.
Ron Cole, who oversees management of the six refuges, including
Lower Klamath, got the message last week, giving him notice that
water for the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge is being
If the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a complex plan
designed to benefit Upper and Lower Klamath Basin tribes,
commercial and recreational fishermen, irrigators and three
species of endangered fish, is eventually approved, things will be
different, Cole says.
The refuges are the last to receive water. Only after the needs
for endangered suckers and salmon, tribal interests and irrigators
are met does water flow into the Lower Klamath refuge.
“We get water when it’s available, when it’s in surplus of
everybody else’s needs,” Cole says. “If the water is there today,
you take it today. There’s no provision to save it for later.”
“Timing and quantity are the keys,” says complex biologist Dave
Mauser. “As important as the ability to get that water is the
ability to access that water when we want to. It’s like a farmer
who needs water at a certain time for his crops.”
Mauser and Cole, who were involved in Klamath Basin Restoration
Agreement negotiations, say the agreement guarantees water and the
ability to determine when and where it’s used. The annual fall
cutoffs mean no or limited water to fields that could provide
habitat for migrating waterfowl.
“This is a real important time for us,” Cole says of fall. “Our
job is to set the table for them (migrating waterfowl) so there’s
plenty of food.”
Cole estimates the refuge has received about 25,000-acre feet of
water this year. Under the KBRA, the refuge would receive nearly
double that amount, 48,000 acre-feet, in low water years and
upward of 60,000 acre-feet in wetter years from April to October.
Part of the Project
If available, the refuge could receive another 35,000 acre-feet in
the winter. Water from the Klamath River is pumped onto the Lower
Klamath from canals near Highway 97 and Worden.
The KBRA also includes a provision that for the first time in
history makes the refuge part of the Klamath Reclamation Project
and puts it in equal standing with agriculture.
“It’s important to be a part of the Project to legally have access
to that water,” Cole says.
Mauser says that until last week’s shutoff, 70 to 80 percent of
the water wanted for the Lower Klamath had been provided.
Depending on weather patterns, there’s no way of knowing when
water will again be available.
If the KBRA is approved, he says refuge managers can evaluate
annual water forecasts and plan when and where guaranteed
allotments are used.
Under the current arrangement, water is provided when the Bureau
of Reclamation determines it’s available. Cole compares the
situation to farmers receiving water in December, when fields are
dormant, and not in spring and summer when crops are planted.
“You go to the faucet and there’s nothing there. It’s hit or
miss,” he said.
The search for solutions
Dave Mauser, a biologist for the Klamath Basin National Wildlife
Refuges, has seen efforts to deal with water issues come and go
since moving to the Klamath Basin in 1991.
“The previous years were a debate about science — whose science
was right,” he says.
In recent years, Mauser says there’s been a shift, one that mixes
science, or the needs for endangered fish, with the needs of
people living in the Upper and Lower Klamath River Basin.
“Throwing our hands up and saying, ‘let’s go to court,’ is not a
solution. The time to solve the problem is here,” he says.
Mauser says negotiations have been affected by multiple factors,
from changes in presidential administrations and evolving science
to stakeholders being able to identify issues most important to
A major turning point has been the relicensing of the Klamath
He believes PacifiCorp, which owns the four dams, made a business
decision to remove the structures because of the projected costs
of trying to meet various state and federal mandates and court
“Having a shot at dam removal was a key,” Mauser says.
Ron Cole, who manages the refuge complex, agrees.
“In their eyes,” he says of groups that have criticized the plan,
“it’s not perfect and so it’s not worth doing.”
He defends the Endangered Species Act and the involved National
Environment Protection Act, which are often seen as obstacles. In
Cole’s eyes, “They allow citizens the right to work for solutions,
not to stop achieving solutions.”
Long-range planning at the refuges
The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement isn’t the only issue
facing the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges. Beginning next
month will be public scopings, or information gathering, for a
long-range comprehensive conservation plan for five of the
complex’s six refuges.
The complex is wrapping up a management plan for the Klamath Marsh
National Wildlife Refuge. The pending plan will include the Lower
Klamath, Tule Lake, Clear Lake, Bear Valley and Upper Klamath
Public meetings will be in Tulelake and Klamath Falls, and
probably elsewhere. After obtaining public input, staff will write
a draft plan, get public review, and develop a final plan.
The potential Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which would
give the refuges status as a partner in the Klamath Irrigation
Project and guarantee water supplies, will be included as an
alternative in the plan.