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Environment, Energy and Transportation

Conservation Funding Will Allow Leased Water Rights For Klamath Refuge

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Jon Myatt/USFWS
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The evening fly-offs of geese on the Klamath Basin refuges draws many visitors during the winter migration period.

This week the U.S. Department of the Interior announced new conservation funding for the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Millions of migratory birds pass through the refuge each year.

$6.3 million will be allocated to the refuge to lease and possibly buy water rights. The money came from the Great American Outdoors Act, which President Trump signed into law in August.

But some conservationists are skeptical this is the best way to get water to the refuge in the Klamath Basin, where water supply is far outstripped by demand for farming, fish habitat and birds in the wildlife refuge.

Jim McCarthy works with the environmental group Water Watch. He says it’s good to for the refuge to get additional water, but calls this a stopgap measure.

“They’re proposing to spend $6 million to temporarily lease water from elsewhere when they give away some 50,000-acre-feet of water for free to agribusiness every year from these refuges,” McCarthy says.

Representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, declined to be interviewed. But in a statement, a spokesperson wrote they are pleased to see the refuge on the list of priorities for the Great American Outdoors Act and “We are still coming to understand the details of this project and will continue to work with our partners and the community as those details become available.”

The Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge funding is one of 16 mostly infrastructure projects in Oregon that the Department of Interior announced.