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Tribe seeks protection for refuges;
Modoc Nation members want to halt water removal

     Members of the Modoc Nation has requested federal entities to stop pumping water out of the Klamath Basin Refuge Complex because of the ongoing drought.

   According to Jefferson Greywolf-Kelley, the chief executive of the Modoc Nation, the tribe recently passed a formal resolution on that request. The resolution is intended to raise awareness and to gain support in protecting natural and wildlife resources in the Modoc Northern California and Southern Oregon ancestral lands. The BOR will announce how much water is available to Basin irrigators on April 1  

   “The Modoc Nation respectfully requests the U.S. Congress, Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife stop all pumping and irrigating off the sacred water in this refuge complex,” the resolution said.

   “It’s going to get tough this summer,” Graywolf-Kelley said. “We don’t want all those refuges pumped dry.”

   The Modoc Nation has been federally recognized as a sovereign entity since 2010.

   The Klamath Basin Refuge Complex includes six wildlife refuges in Oregon and California: Upper Klamath, Lower Klamath, Klamath Marsh, Tule Lake, Bear Valley, and Clear Lake. Water from Upper Klamath Lake travels through a series of canals before being pumped through farmland and refuges during spring and summer months.  

   The resolution referenced the 2012 avian cholera outbreak resulting from a lack of water at the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge that bird killed more than 10,000 birds.

   “The continuation of pumping off water and flood irrigation would ultimately destroy the wildlife in the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex … Not protecting the quality and quantity of water would have irreversible impacts on the freedom of religion and the cultural practices of the Modoc Nation and other Tribes in the region,” the resolution stated.

   According to Chuck Glaser, a data acquisition program manager at the National Weather Service in Medford, the Basin is quite a bit below average in rain and snowpack. Since Sept. 1, only 3.72 inches of rain have been recorded. The normal amount is 9.11 inches, he said.  

   Glaser pointed out that the calendar year looks slightly better, but the figures are still lagging: Since January 1, the Basin has received 2.98 inches of rain. The normal amount is 3.89 inches.

   “It’s catching up a bit,” Glaser said. “We’re expecting another fairly wet system.”

   Glaser expects a new weather system moving in to drop about one-half inch of rain this week, although he doesn’t expect much snow.

   On Monday, Crater Lake the snowpack was 48 percent of normal   , with 56 inches of snow on the ground.

   According to Oregon Water Resources Department daily hydrologic reading at Upper Klamath Lake, the lake is slightly higher than it was at this time last year. On March 3, 2013, Upper Klamath had an elevation of 4141.33. Monday, the lake had an elevation of 4141.48.

   Jason Phillips, the deputy regional director for the BOR Mid-Pacific Region and former BOR Klamath Basin area manager, explained that lake water elevations are managed based on a joint biological opinion released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversee protections for endangered fish in the Klamath watershed. Phillips said the new joint opinion, first released in 2013, will allow water managers to look at daily flow requirements for protected fish. From this, they can calculate how to reach the target volume the lake should be at by the   end of September to meet needs the following next year.

   “In the past, part of the problem we’ve had is taking the lake down too low and then you start off on a bad footing for the next water year,” Phillips said.

   The BOR will announce how much water is available to Basin irrigators in 2014 on April 1.

   Greywolf-Kelly said he is not opposed to Basin water being used for irrigation, but he would like to see it managed in a way that balances the needs of wildlife and farmers better.

    ljarrell@heraldandnews.com  ; LMJatHandN


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