Emergency water delivery aims to help birds,
fish at Tule Lake
and News by Alex Schwartz, 8/13/21
Water is headed
to a critically dry wetland unit on Tule Lake National
Wildlife Refuge to combat avian botulism, thanks to an
arrangement forged between various agencies and stakeholders
in the Klamath Basin.
currently the only wet unit on the refuge, began rapidly
losing water primarily due
to evaporation and minimal irrigation diversions last month.
Irrigators and waterfowl biologists had filled
it earlier this summer using
water drained from the refuge’s larger Sump 1A, the bottom
of which had likely never been exposed to air for millions
formula overestimated the amount of water available in Sump
1A, and unseasonably hot temperatures caused the smaller
sump to evaporate more than expected. Though smoke and
significantly reduced irrigation diversions helped the sump
to stabilize somewhat over the past few weeks, a significant
portion of its waterfowl habitat had already dried up.
Approximately 130 endangered C’waam (Lost River suckers) in
the sump also risked harm due to low water levels.
Tuesday, waterfowl conservation organization Ducks
Unlimited announced that,
along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tulelake
Irrigation District and local farmers, they had secured
10,000 acre-feet of water to deliver to the sump without
significant impact to key water features in the basin.
“DU is grateful
for the contributions of all local parties for their efforts
in mitigating what would have assuredly become a disaster
for wildlife and the local community,” the organization said
in a news release.
The water will
be “borrowed” from PacifiCorp’s hydroelectric reservoirs on
the Klamath River, a practice that has been used in recent
drought years to provide relatively small emergency flows
for downriver communities, including the Yurok Tribe’s boat
dance in 2020. By lowering the reservoirs by 10,000
acre-feet and adjusting flows upstream, the action isn’t
expected to majorly affect flows out of Iron Gate Dam or the
elevation of Upper Klamath Lake.
currently leaving the Klamath River below Lake Ewauna
through the Lost River Diversion Channel, entering the Lost
River at Station 48 just south of Henley. TID diverts the
water from the Lost River into the J Canal through
Anderson-Rose Dam, after which it flows southward through
the district’s laterals and gets pumped into the N Canal,
which delivers it to Sump 1B.
PacifiCorp reservoirs will have to be refilled later in the
year, ideally following a precipitation event in the fall or
“This is water
that was already in the system, and we’re just offsetting it
through creative operational measures,” said TID Manager
Brad Kirby, adding that he has identified ways to “pay” the
water back if necessary.
DU’s western region director of operations, said the Bureau
of Reclamation performed a hydrological study to confirm
that the delivery’s effects on the river and the lake would
flipside of it, that amount of water going into Sump 1B is
significant,” McCreary said. “The result of it is that you
know that 1B is not going to go dry.”
The most recent
counting by Tule Lake Refuge biologists estimates that more
than 100,000 waterfowl are currently molting on Sump 1B.
Were water levels to drop further and stagnate amid this
August heat, the bacteria that causes avian botulism would
be able to activate in the wetland soil and infect birds
that can’t fly away. The bacteria paralyze the birds, which
subsequently drown in the shallow water.
bird can infect many others through maggots that eat the
decaying body — healthy birds will eat the maggots, which in
turn infect them with the bacteria. Refuge biologists say
keeping water levels as high as possible is crucial to
prevent outbreaks from getting out of control and avoiding a
situation like last year, when more than 60,000 ducks
succumbed to botulism
on Sump 1A.
Over the next
few weeks, the 10,000 acre-feet is expected to raise the
sump level and improve circulation, fighting off those prime
that even with further evaporation, the infusion of water is
a saving grace to birds under threat of botulism that comes
“just in time,” considering the heat wave setting into the
basin this week. Some temperature forecasts expect highs of
100 degrees Thursday and Friday.
“This was the
only thing that could probably save 1B,” he said. “Our
feeling was that hours mattered, not even days.”
biologists have collected a few sick birds on the sump, but
not enough to qualify as a botulism outbreak. McCreary
thinks that’s due to the previous infusion of water from
“Now this water
will hopefully keep it staved off,” he said.
diversions from Sump 1B to irrigate farmland on the refuge’s
Southwest Sump, which drew ire from some environmental
groups in the region, Kirby said TID instituted a cap on how
much water can leave the sump for irrigation. For the past
couple weeks, private well owners have been infusing the
sump with more water than is leaving it, he said.
“We’ve put more
water into 1B than we have taken out of it all summer,” he
said. If Southwest Sump fields need to be irrigated, that
water will come out of those private well flows, not the
Scott Seus of
Seus Family Farms said water management actions like this
are part of the future of equitable communities in the
Klamath Basin, where input from multiple stakeholders can
inform decisions that benefit multiple species.
an important part of the ecosystem both on and off the
refuge,” Seus said. “By working together, we’ve advanced
this common-sense decision that will help avoid the loss of
fish and waterfowl, which would have further divided
everyone in the region. It’s great to know that when we
focus on our problems and our options, there’s common ground
to unite us.”
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