It’s a dry year in the Klamath River Basin. So dry, the feds declared a natural disaster last week to help farmers who have been pumping down wells and losing crops to drought.
According to a story in the Capital Press today, a priority system determines who gets water first in dry times. Last in line? Wildlife refuges:
“Under the priority system, endangered species are first in line for water followed by tribal subsistence fisheries in Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River. Next are Klamath Project farmers. The refuges are last, with water available only after other users receive full allotments.”
Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge provides superior habitat for migrating birds. But this year, the refuge is drier than it’s been since the 1940s. And without water, migratory birds won’t land there.
The refuge manager has asked the Bureau of Reclamation for enough water to cover 5,000 acres of habitat - to accommodate about a half-million birds. But his refuge lacks status to receive water ahead of others in need.
But in the meantime, bird hunters who normally flock to Lower Klamath each fall aren’t so keen this year. More than 1,000 hunters typically apply for opening day, but only 300 have applied this year.
Under the pending Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the refuge would get an allocation of water in normal years and less in dry years. receive 30,000 acre-feet in a dry year and 48,000 acre-feet in normal years. But it’s uncertain if the KBRA will be enacted, and even it if its, it could be 20 years before it takes effect.