KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — The Bureau of Reclamation began releasing water from the Klamath River to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge on Sept. 3. Advocates hope it will improve wetland habitat on the refuge for migrating birds this fall.
Last week, California Waterfowl Association officially purchased approximately 3,750 acre-feet of water from Agency Ranch in the Wood River Valley, above Upper Klamath Lake, having announced the purchase and fundraising effort this spring. Lower Klamath has been plagued by insufficient wetland habitat due to a lack of deliveries from the Klamath Project for the past 20 years.
Kurt Thomas, whose family owns Agency Ranch, said in a CWA news release that he was “extremely gratified” to see the water flowing.
“I grew up hunting Tule Lake and Lower Klamath, and transferring our pasture irrigation water to irrigate wetland plants for the benefit of ducks and shorebirds is an extraordinary legacy for my family,” Thomas said.
All wetland habitat on Lower Klamath is dry save for Unit 2, on the northwest part of the refuge. It contains Sheepy Lake, the last piece of open water on the refuge, which had been drying up all summer, stranding molting waterfowl and making them prone to predation by raccoons and coyotes. Water is now headed there through the Ady Canal.
However, not all 3,750 acre-feet will enter the refuge this year. Because the water right only allows for diversion through September 30 at a maximum rate per day, only about 700 acre-feet will be available to divert this summer. But CWA’s release said the full amount will be available in future years, and that it provides a proof of concept for other water rights holders who are interested in selling some of their water to help the refuge.
“While this amount of water is small compared with the refuge’s overall need of about 100,000 acre-feet of water per year, this success is enormously significant,” said Rob Plath, chairman of CWA’s Lower Klamath Refuge Task Force.