The Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge – one of the Pacific Flyway’s critical waterfowl breeding, molting and migration staging areas –  is being starved of essential water supplies.

The refuge is last in line for water rights, and increasing amounts of water are being withheld from the refuge to help endangered fish species. Only it isn’t helping the fish, and meanwhile LKNWR is turning into a duck desert.

This is not just a Northeastern California issue – it affects waterfowl populations throughout the Pacific Flyway because LKNWR provides essential habitat at critical times in their life cycles. At least it does when it has water.

For a detailed explanation of the issue, please click here (article from Summer 2019 issue of California Waterfowl). For a look at Lower Klamath’s importance to the Pacific Flyway, and the impact of reduced water deliveries, please click here (PDF).

California Waterfowl is actively engaged in efforts to restore desperately needed water supplies to the nation’s first national wildlife refuge for waterfowl. Taking the lead on this is Director of Water Law and Policy Jeffrey Volberg, who can be reached at or 916-217-5117.



The latest on Lower Klamath

Extra water delivery begins

(Sept. 4, 2019) The refuge began taking delivery of 50 cubic feet per second of water today. That delivery was available thanks to a cool and wet spring that delayed plantings and left the Klamath Project with extra water that it could divert to LKNWR.

Refuge staff are anticipating 3,000 acre feet of water delivered through the end of September, helping to maintain current objective levels for the wetlands.

Click here to read the press release.

Water levels dropping

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge on July 25, 2019


(Aug. 20, 2019) Lower Klamath looks lush this summer thanks to incredible precipitation last winter and spring, and the refuge has received a small amount of water this spring and summer – about 60 acre feet a day – via a transfer of water rights.

This water was enough to maintain water levels in the Unit 2 permanent wetland until evaporation/transpiration rates began to increase with summer temperatures, but now water levels are dropping. The timing is not good: Late August is prime molting time, when waterfowl lose all of their flight feathers for up to 40 days. To remain safe during molt, they need water that doesn’t go away. Lack of sufficient molting habitat can be a huge limiter for California’s locally breeding waterfowl – primarily mallards, gadwall and cinnamon teal – creating a population bottleneck.

Letter to secretary of the interior

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt

On July 30, CWA director (now chair of the board) Rocque Merlo and Vice President for Legislative Affairs and Public Policy Mark Hennelly hand-delivered a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Click here to see a PDF of the letter.

The letter asks the secretary to throw out the biological opinions that govern operation of the Klamath Project. The biological opinions, which are prepared to protect endangered fish, cut off the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge from a large part of its water supply. Without water, the refuge is in danger of turning from a very large wetland to a desert.

A wide array of organizations signed on to the letter, indicating broad-based support for the refuge and a clear recognition that its water woes affect the entire flyway. Signatories included Audubon California, the Black Brant Group, the Cal-Ore Wetlands and Waterfowl Council, Delta Waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited, the Grassland Water District, the Oregon Hunters Association, the Suisun Resource Conservation District and the Tulare Basin Wetlands Association.

The request to throw out the biological opinions is supported by local irrigators. The Yurok tribe on the Klamath River has filed suit to throw out the biological opinions, as well.

Coalition of the Willing

Following the collapse of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement at the end of 2015, parties to that agreement began meeting anew to search for solutions to the water crisis that will actually help endangered fish species without strangling the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge or throttling farmers’ water supplies.

CWA Director of Water Law and Policy Jeff Volberg has been participating in Coalition efforts, and we will report any significant outcomes. But because the issue is complex and involves competing interests, the process is slow.