Klamath Basin stakeholders collaborate to save fish and waterfowl

Emergency water delivery mitigates impact of severe drought

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – August 10, 2021 – Today, Ducks Unlimited (DU) announced an agreement to deliver 10,000 acre-feet of water to mitigate severe drought conditions at the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Tulelake, Calif. The agreement comes after the hydraulic analysis by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to recommend the diversion of water to save the only standing unit of wetland habitat in either Lower Klamath or Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges this year. 

One acre-foot of water is defined as the volume of water necessary to cover one acre of surface area – nearly the size of a football field – one foot deep with water. DU worked with local stakeholders to identify and advance a solution to the ongoing crisis that was acceptable to the needs of all parties, but with an emphasis on protecting the fish and waterfowl in the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. In particular, USFWS regional staff and leadership, Klamath Basin community leaders, Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) staff, local farmers and ranchers and fish advocates were all instrumental in securing relief for the endangered fish and waterfowl in the Refuge.

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. 

Historically considered one of the most productive areas of the Pacific Flyway, severe drought conditions are bearing down on farmers, ranchers, tribes and local residents, while potential for a catastrophic botulism outbreak threatens as many as 200,000 waterfowl in the Klamath Basin. The 10,000 acre-feet of water to recharge Sump 1B of Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge will significantly mitigate the risk faced by waterfowl and nearly 130 endangered suckers, which had recently been relocated to Sump 1B to protect them from the impending drought. Without this water to prevent the entire refuge system from going dry, the fish and waterfowl will almost assuredly die.

Last year, one of the worst avian botulism outbreaks in history killed more than 60,000 ducks in the Basin. Facing even more dire circumstances this year, BOR, USFWS, TID and local farmers and ranchers made the decision to drain the Refuge's Sump 1A into the smaller Sump 1B in hopes of keeping water levels high enough to avoid an outbreak. But as Sump 1B continued to rapidly lose water, due primarily to extreme temperatures driving evaporation, the outlook was bleak. Upon the science-based recommendations of BOR and the USFWS, this influx of water offers a temporary solution for everyone involved. 

"It's not often a single decision can save as many as 200,000 waterfowl but make no mistake – were it not for good faith collaborations among all parties in the Basin, a catastrophic botulism outbreak was a matter of when, not if," said DU Western Region Director of Operations Jeff McCreary. "Not only will this fresh water inflow potentially save thousands of ducks and protect endangered species of fish, but it also sets the table for all parties involved to continue sharing their logistical and scientific expertise as we work toward a more permanent solution going forward."

Avian botulism occurs when water levels are unusually low, warm and stagnant, releasing bacteria from the soil, paralyzing and often drowning waterfowl exposed to the disease. Facing an extraordinary drought and with water levels already at historic lows, the steady flow of 10,000 acre-feet of water over the next few weeks will raise water levels and improve circulation on Sump 1B, drastically reducing the likelihood of a botulism outbreak. 

"Agriculture is an important part of the ecosystem both on and off the refuge," said Scott Seus, a third-generation Tulelake farmer. "We're fighting through this current crisis and looking for every opportunity to help our community however we can. Stability for our communities, farms and wildlife requires people getting back to the table. 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." 

For more information, visit www.ducks.org, and be sure to Follow DU's news Twitter feed – @DUNews1937 – to get the most up-to-date news from Ducks Unlimited. 

Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 15 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org. 


Media Contact:
Parker Williams
(202) 621-1646
pwilliams@ducks.org