Klamath Basin receives $26 million for drought relief

The parched communities of Klamath Basin are finally able to
whet their whistles this week as millions of dollars are being distributed to
quench the thirst of the drought-stricken county. The Interior Department
issued a news release Tuesday, Aug. 23, announcing the allocation of federal
funding to the Klamath Falls National Fish Hatchery and ecosystem restoration
projects in the amount of $26 million.

For 20 years, ongoing drought in the Klamath Basin has
caused tensions to run high as the water supply has dwindled. Water allocations
are at “historic lows,” according to multiple news releases this year
from the Department of Interior. This resulted in the destruction of important
ecosystems, severe economic decline and strained relationships between groups,
including the Klamath Tribes and the agricultural communities, according to
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

Another $3 million, provided by the Bureau of Reclamation,
the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and matched contributions, will fund
10 grants for the Trinity River Restoration and the Klamath River Coho
Restoration Grant Programs.

Funding A portion of the Biden administration’s $1.2
trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) was devoted to conservation
efforts for American public lands in the sum of $1.4 billion. The Interior
Department previously earmarked $162 over five years for the Klamath Basin.

The most recent dispersal of funds will allocate $10 million
to the fish hatchery for an expansion to the facility. Once completed, the
hatchery will be capable of raising up to 60,000 of the endangered C’waam and
Koptu (Lost River and shortnose suckers).

The departments said that the remaining $16 million will be
granted to restoration efforts across the Basin that aim to improve water
quality suffering from toxic algal blooms; restore wildlife habitats, including
waterfowl wetlands; and support endangered, endemic species of fish which are
sacred and crucial to the Klamath Tribes.

Clay Dumont, Chairman of the Klamath Tribes Council, said
the tribes have received approximately $5.75 million in restoration funding, $3
million of which came from funding put in place by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.,
and the rest was allocated from the BIL.

Dumont said the tribes will be putting the money toward
projects which will improve the natural habitat of C’waam and Koptu

“One of the problems we have had perennially is that we
don’t meet the biological minimum requirements in the lake for spawning in
spring,” Dumont said.

He explained the requirements are defined and protected by
the Endangered Species Act but have been “disregarded” for three
consecutive years.

The Klamath Tribes received $50,000 to increase their
spawning sucker habitats (Ambodat).

The Tribes also received $913,000 for the salmon reintroduction

Trinity River Restoration and Klamath River Coho Restoration
Grant Programs are two in the Basin whose efforts are put toward recovery of
the coho population. Combined, they received $2.2 million from BIL, and an
additional $700,000 from matched contributions.

Collaboration In April of 2021, the Biden-Harris
administration formed the Interagency Drought Relief Working Group, co-chaired
by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, for the purpose of working
toward solutions to the ongoing water crises across the West.

“Water is a sacred resource. This Interagency Working
Group will deliver a much-needed proactive approach to providing drought
assistance to U.S. communities, including efforts to build long-term resiliency
to water shortages,” Haaland said in an Interior Department news release.
“We are committed to using every resource available to our bureaus to
ensure that Tribes, irrigators and the adjoining communities receive adequate
assistance and support.”

The Departments held collaborative meetings in the Basin
earlier this year to better understand the plights relative to drought that are
affecting the ecosystem, wildlife habitats, the Klamath Tribes and agriculture
production. These included local and state officials, non-governmental
organizations, the Tribes and other affected communities.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., expressed appreciation for the
relief and support the Basin is receiving.

“With no rain in immediate sight this summer, there’s
obviously much more work to be done during this brutally tough water
year,” Wyden said. “But I’m gratified the Bipartisan Infrastructure
Law has generated these federal resources for species recovery and habitat
restoration to make sure every precious drop of water goes as far as possible
in the Basin.”