Cal Waterfowl On The Drought-Stricken, Water-Less Plight Of Klamath Basin

As drought conditions have taken a toll on breeding production for California’s waterfowl migrations, consider the plight of Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, which is a part of a larger complex of public land makinf up the Klamath Basin. But as California Waterfowl points out, there’s hardly any water left in the Klamath Basin for those migrating birds anymore:

Due to reduced water deliveries, waterfowl counts in both 2020 and 2021 at the Klamath refuges were among the lowest ever recorded. In 2020, 60,000 waterfowl and other waterbirds also died from an avian botulism outbreak, which was exacerbated by low water conditions. Other wildlife like bald eagles, a large number of which spend the winter in the Klamath Basin, also suffered from lack of suitable habitat. Ongoing drought, water kept in-stream for endangered fish, increased pumping costs, and lack of senior water rights have combined to cut water deliveries to wetlands to historically low levels. Wildlife-friendly crops like wheat, barley, and other cereal grains have additionally declined in light of reduced water deliveries, leaving substantially less food for waterfowl and causing significant financial harm to Klamath Basin farmers.

“These unprecedented dry conditions at the refuges will negatively impact hundreds of thousands of migrating waterfowl that will be heading south in the next month or so from their breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada,” stated John Carlson Jr., president of California Waterfowl Association, a nonprofit organization that restores and enhances wetlands and other waterfowl habitat. “Birds traditionally stop at this historically important habitat to refuel and rest before finishing their thousands of miles trip to their wintering grounds.”

Because of lack of any flooded habitat or irrigated grain crops, the refuges will for the first time be closed to all waterfowl hunting for the 2022-23 season. This will not only negatively impact outdoor recreation opportunities for many California and Oregon families, but also harm the Klamath Basin’s local economy, which depends in part upon hunting-related revenues.
A water sharing compact, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, would have provided more equitable supplies of water to the refuges and was supported by a large group of stakeholders, but Congress failed to pass legislation to implement it by the 2016 deadline. Subsequent efforts to create a similar agreement with Klamath Basin water users—which many critics view as necessary—have largely stalled.