‘Critical Fix’ Gives Klamath Irrigators Access to Up to $10 Million in Emergency Drought Relief

October 12, 2020 by Sean Trambley
The Upper Klamath Basin, showing the remnants of the vast Lake Modoc. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced in a release that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a critically needed fix to the 2018 Water Resources Development Act that would provide relief to Klamath Basin irrigators who have been hard-hit by drought. 

The legislation was passed by the Senate in July of this year and is now headed to President Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

In 2018, the WRDA included language that was essential for irrigators in the Klamath Basin to effectively use $10 million in drought relief funds that the lawmakers had previously secured. 

The new bill provides clear flexibility in how the relief may be used, enabling irrigators to access the funding when there is a severe shortage of water. 

“Irrigators in the Klamath Basin are enduring another challenging, drought-stricken year, and we need to ensure they have the tools to get through it. We also need to be prepared if our farmers get hit with severe drought conditions in the years ahead,” said Walden. “The Bureau of Reclamation needs the authority to use the funds we already secured to implement measures such as groundwater pumping and other priorities for our irrigators. This bill will ensure the Bureau of Reclamation has that authority for the next four years to help farmers, ranchers, and water users navigate the current water year and survive the difficult water years we may face in the near future.” 

“Through drought, the global pandemic, and most recently these unprecedented wildfires, Klamath Basin irrigators have shown they’re committed to working collaboratively with the many water stakeholders in the region, and it is critical that the federal government steps up to be a strong partner to their efforts,” said Merkley. “To ensure that farming and ranching have a strong future in the Basin, we need to get through this drought and work on long-term solutions to our water supply challenges. This fix will help us do that.” 

This announcement comes less than three months after Walden brought Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt and Commissioner of Reclamation Brenda Burman to meet with key stakeholders in the Klamath Basin. 

“This legislation frees up urgently needed resources for farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin to help survive a 2020 that’s proven incredibly difficult with a brutal combination of drought, wildfires and COVID-19’s economic fallout,” Wyden said. “This bipartisan and collaborative solution takes a solid step forward for the Basin this year that can be built upon in the years ahead to reach a resolution to long-standing water supply challenges.”

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration made good on an April commitment to deliver 140,000 acre feet of water for farmers in the Klamath Basin.

The original language authorized up to $10 million a year for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to work with the farming and ranching community to develop and implement strategies to align water demand with available supply. 

This technical correction clarifies the authority for irrigators to access the funds for strategies such as land idling and groundwater pumping in times of drought. 

Click here to watch Walden’s remarks on the House Floor.

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