Resighini Rancheria

Upper Klamath Wildlife Refuges Drying Up Due to Klamath Settlement

The magnificent National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) of the Upper Klamath Basin provide important winter habitat for 70% of the birds on the Pacific Flyway, but water allocation under the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) is causing major ecological problems.

At left: Swans lift off at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Courtesy Oregon Wild.

More than 80% of the 300,000 acres of historic wetlands and shallow lakes of the Upper Klamath Basin have been diked and drained. Tule Lake was formerly 110,000 acres but has now been reduced to the 9,000-13,000 acre Tule Sumps. Lower Klamath Lake, formerly 85,000 acres, is now only 4,000-7,000 acres, depending on the water year.  Under the KBRA, these lakes and wetlands would not be expanded and 22,000 acres within the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges will continue to be leased for industrial agriculture for the next 50 years.  Pesticide use on the Lease Lands is the highest in Siskiyou County and there has been documented mortality of wildlife.

While KBRA supporters claim that water guarantees for Refuges would improve their condition, instead water storage in Upper Klamath Lake is being given priority to insure water supply for Klamath Project water users.  Although there is language in the KBRA allocating a minimum of 24,000 acre-feet (AF) of water delivery to Lower Klamath Refuge, it is contradicted elsewhere in the KBRA and there is no guaranteed minimum supply.  

Above: Tule Lake Lease Lands with industrial agriculture. Photo courtesy Oregon Wild.

In fact water supply to the Refuge has plummeted since the KBRA was signed. For example, 108,000 AF was pumped into Lower Klamath NWR from Tule Lake in 2005-2006, but delivery was only 12,100 AF in the 2009-2010 and 10,000 AF from October 2011 to March 2012. This lead to an outbreak of avian cholera caused by crowding related to lack of water supply and 20,000 water fowl, mostly snow geese, perished.

Environmental groups in a joint letter to Secretary Salazar of September 2012 point out the potential for another crisis:

“Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge wetlands received no water deliveries from May 17 through August 30, 2012, leaving refuge wetlands parched and almost totally dry at the beginning of the fall waterfowl migration period. This is happening in a year when commercial agricultural operations, uniquely permitted to operate on these national wildlife refuges, continue to receive deliveries from scarce water supplies at the public’s greater expense, and to the significant detriment to the region’s wetland habitat, water quality, waterfowl, and other wildlife.” Above: Dead Coot at Tule Lake NWR. Copyright NY Daily News.

The water supply crisis on the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge is compounded by over-draughting of groundwater in the lower Lost River Basin as documented by the U.S. Geologic Survey. Ironically, the State of California funded acquisition of large groundwater pumps during the 2001 drought for Upper Klamath irrigators. They have since caused the water table in the Lower Lost River above Tule Lake to drop by as much as 25 feet and actually make a profit selling groundwater back to refuges.

The Resighini Rancheria is concerned that not enough wetlands and lakes are being restored in the Upper Klamath Basin to increase natural water storage and water purification that helped the Klamath River maintain its ecological balance over the millennia. Our people have a Harmony based culture and we believe that all creatures in the Klamath Basin are part of one living system.  The sustainable and just solution to the current Klamath River crisis is to pursue ecological restoration that includes expanding Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Lake to help increase natural water supply and nutrient reduction.

See the Oreogn Wild Website for more information:


Gannett, M.W., Lite, K.E. Jr., La Marche, J.L., Fisher, B.J., and Polette, D.J. 2007. Ground-water hydrology of the upper Klamath Basin, Oregon and California. U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5050, 84 p.

King, G. 2012. Upper Klamath Basin Refuge Crisis Will Not Be Solved by Restoration Agreement: Time to Take Another Path. Eureka Times Standard Guest Editorial.

New York Daily News. 2012. Cholera Outbreak Kills 10,000 Birds in California. 4/9/12.

Oregon Wild and 23 Other Groups. 2012a. Water for National Wildlife Refuges and Endangered Species in the Klamath River Basin.  Letter to Secretary of Interior Salazar of March 27, 2012. From 24 environmental groups. 8 p.

Oregon Wild and 33 Other Groups. 2012b. Water for the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges. Letter to Secretary of Interior Salazar of September 21, 2012. Thirty four environmental groups.  9 p.

Resighini Rancheria. 2011a. Comments on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement
Draft Drought Plan. Submitted April 15, 2011. Resighini Rancheria, Klamath, CA. 22 p.

Resighini Rancheria. 2011b. Resighini Rancheria Comments on the Klamath
Hydroelectric Project Facilities Removal Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)
and Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). Resighini Rancheria, Klamath, CA. 32

Resighini Resighini Rancheria. 2012. Concern Regarding Lack of Endangered Species Act Enforcement. Letter from Chairman Donald to Secretary of the Interior Salazar of 3/26/12. Resighini Rancheria, Klamath, CA. 8 p.

San Francisco Chronicle. 2012. Migrating waterfowl die from lack of water. By Peter Fimrite. 4/21/12.

Two Rivers Tribune. 2012. Thousands of Birds Drop Dead in Klamath Refuges. By Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune, Hoopa, Calif. 4/4/12.