Klamath water is finally for the birds

 

OREGON, CALIFORNIA

Amid all the fighting this summer over water in the Klamath Basin of Oregon and California, many forgot about a significant water user that couldn't protest in the streets or file a lawsuit - the threatened bald eagle.

Although a biological opinion issued in April by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mandated that six national wildlife refuges receive flows throughout the summer in order to help the birds, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation ignored this directive in order to supply water to three endangered species of fish (HCN, 8/13/01: No refuge in the Klamath Basin). Now, spurred by a lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmentalists, the Bureau has announced that local irrigators and a Portland-based power company have agreed to sell or donate water allowing the agency to deliver 6,300 acre-feet in September and additional flows in the coming months.

"This has been a small success story," says Bob Hunter of the nonprofit WaterWatch. It is one of the first times local water users have worked together, he says.

Still, the news is bittersweet. The water is only a third of what the refuges usually store, which means the migratory waterfowl eagles prey on will suffer this fall.

"The eagles make it a legal issue, but if (they weren't threatened) we'd be sucking sand right now," says Phil Norton, manager of the six national wildlife refuges in the Klamath. "This makes it clear that the refuges must be part of the long-term solution for this basin; we can't keep waiting for crumbs to fall off the table."