Merkley Announces Committee Passage of Major Investments for Oregon to Bolster Wildfire Resiliency, Modernize Water Infrastructure, and Fight Climate Chaos Under his Chairmanship

As Chair of key Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Merkley wrote the bill to fund top Oregon priorities, including essential community-initiated projects across the state.

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, as Chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, announced he is working to deliver major investments to strengthen forest health and wildfire resiliency; protect public lands and the environment; boost important programs for Tribes; and support critical projects for Oregon communities.

The federal funding comes through the FY24 Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which encompasses funding for the Department of the Interior (DOI), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Chair Merkley wrote the Interior bill to include key priorities for Oregon, including over $35 million for 22 community-initiated projects throughout the state, as well as significant investments to support programs and projects that help support wildfire management and smoke preparedness, build drought resiliency and conservation, and address the water crisis in the Klamath Basin. The bill passed through committee today, setting it up for full Senate action in the fall.

“At my town halls in each of Oregon’s 36 counties this year, I heard firsthand from folks about what matters most to them, including the need to take on wildfire, smoke, and heat threats, modernize our water infrastructure to stand up to prolonged drought, and protect our state’s iconic public lands and waters,” Merkley said. “As Chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I am in the driver’s seat to deliver on these priorities for Oregon, and the bill I wrote includes critical funding for environmental programs, community-initiated projects, and Tribal communities that will benefit Oregonians in every corner of the state for years to come.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, which is one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.

Chair Merkley, along with Senator Ron Wyden, secured investments for 22 community-initiated projects in the Interior spending bill, which are as follows:

  • $3.5 million for the Tumalo Irrigation District in Deschutes County to help fund 2 miles of high-density piping and 75 turnouts to deliver more reliable irrigation water to farms and ranches within the irrigation district. The project will lead to both less stress for farmers and ranchers and better habitat for wildlife amid persistent drought and hotter weather impacting the Deschutes Basin.
  • $3 million to the City of Clatskanie for their Wastewater Treatment Plant: This project includes substantial site preparation at Clatskanie’s designated site for their new wastewater treatment plant.  This is a critical step in building the City’s new plant and transitioning away from the current plant, which is over fifty years old and experiencing structural and mechanical failures.
  • $3 million for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation to install a wastewater treatment plant that will produce recycled water for non-potable uses. This localized treatment facility will produce water for irrigation needs, therefore reducing the amount of groundwater that needs to be drawn from the community’s aquifers.
  • $2.38 million for the City of Myrtle Creek for a water infrastructure improvement project to replace an essential plant treatment pod to meet the City of Myrtle Creek’s demand.
  • $2.25 million for the U.S. Forest Service for the Timberline Lodge Roof Replacement Project. Funding will advance the project by helping finish design and engineering of a new roof for the historic lodge.
  • $2 million for the City of Estacada to help replace their outdated wastewater treatment plant, which cannot keep up with the city’s rapid growth.
  • $2 million for the City of Grass Valley for its Municipal Wastewater System Development Project, which would establish a city sewer in Grass Valley.
  • $2 million for the Wallowa Lake Irrigation District to continue its work with partners to create safe passage for fish listed under the Endangered Species Act.  Existing diversion structures block the ability of fish to access valuable habitat. Funding will also be used to install screens to prevent fish from entering irrigation ditches.
  • $1.895 million for the City of Astoria to replace a nearly 100-year-old 6″ cast-iron waterline—which runs through several mapped landslide areas on Irving Avenue and has a history of failure—with a more resilient pipe. Replacing the existing pipe with more modern materials and a design approach that accounts for geologically-sensitive areas will greatly improve the resiliency and serviceability of this critical water line that serves central Astoria.
  • $1.615 million for the Rogue River Watershed Council for Rogue River Watershed Restoration and Barrier Removal to fund five restoration projects in Southern Oregon focused on reconnecting, restoring, and increasing habitat for ESA Listed Coho Salmon and numerous other species.
  • $1.365 million for the City of Sumpter to install a new water transmission mainline and install modern water meters at every connection. Sumpter’s current transmission line from the 1970s is made of asbestos cement and is failing, with frequent leaks. Without upgrades, a major break of this transmission main is likely.
  • $1.33 million was secured for the Oregon Trails Coalition for recreational trail work at the U.S. Forest Service.  The funding will support Signature Trails on the Umatilla and Willamette National Forests and in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. These projects will expand access to outdoor recreation in rural communities and support local economies.
  • $1.32 million for Morrow County for the second phase of their work to address nitrate contamination of private wells. Funding will be used to develop a Preliminary Engineering Report and for vetting alternatives for providing well users with clean water.
  • $1.16 million for Benton County to design and construct critical upgrades to the rural Alpine and Alsea Sewer Districts, which will lead to sewer system improvements for connected users in the county.
  • $1 million for the City of Hillsboro to complete the first phase of its Upper Pipeline Mitigation System Project. The City’s current system is 50 years old and experiences leakage of up to 50%, increasing vulnerability of water access to a significant area, most of which is rural.
  • $1 million for the City of Prineville to help address human health and safety concerns by extending water and wastewater services that will provide safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposal to underserved and traditionally low-income areas. This funding is especially needed as Prineville’s growth has soared in recent years and infrastructure modernization is needed for water system safety and sustained city growth.
  • $1 million for the Eugene Water & Electric Board to be used to support fuels reduction work on a landscape scale in high-risk priority areas in the McKenzie River Valley, helping reduce the risk of out-of-control wildfires.
  • $610,000 for the University of Oregon (UO) to expand its ALERTWildfire camera system, which features cameras in use throughout Oregon that provide firefighters and first responders with real-time, live images and time lapse footage to spot and track wildfires. The UO Hazards Lab installs and maintains the cameras throughout Oregon, and they will use this funding to better coordinate and optimize existing cameras, as well as place more wildfire cameras. These cameras are proving to be critical tools to identify wildfires quicker—especially in remote areas—and produce faster, coordinated responses.
  • $525,000 for the City of Mosier for its Well 5 project, which would establish a new backup well for the city’s drinking water system. 
  • $500,000 for the Harney County Watershed Council for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to work with the State of Oregon to better understand the state’s groundwater resources.  In 2021, the Oregon legislature directed the Oregon Water Resources Department to enter into an agreement with USGS to develop and publish groundwater budgets for all major hydrologic basins in Oregon. This funding will support that effort. The data will be a critical management tool for understanding the conditions of groundwater throughout the state.
  • $475,000 for Curry Soil and Water Conservation District for Gorse Removal. This funding will be used to convert nearly 580 acres of gorse encompassing the wildland-urban interface around Port Orford, including treatment of outlier gorse throughout Curry County.
  • $100,000 for the Human Access Project in Multnomah County for efforts to help mitigate harmful algae bloom in the Ross Island Lagoon on the Willamette River. The harmful algae bloom impacts all recreational users of the Willamette River and poses a threat to wildlife, including native protected species such as Chinook Salmon and lamprey.

For quotes from community-initiated project recipients included in the Interior bill, click HERE.

Protecting Oregon Communities and Forests from Severe Wildfires and Hazardous Smoke

The Interior bill Senator Merkley wrote also includes huge investments to support wildfire management, take on hazardous smoke threats, and support a robust wildland firefighter workforce. The funding builds on his national leadership in ensuring communities in Oregon and throughout the West have the resources needed to mitigate and fight severe wildfires and safeguard forest health.

Key elements in the Interior bill for wildfire prevention and mitigation include:

Wildfire Suppression: The bill provides $4.045 billion for wildfire suppression, of which $2.65 billion is provided in the Wildfire Suppression Operations Reserve Fund. This Reserve Fund provides the USFS and DOI an assured amount of funding to be used when major fire activity requires expenditures exceeding regular base suppression operations funding.  This funding level—in addition to carryover balances—is expected to meet the needs for fiscal year 2024 wildfires.

Federal Firefighting Workforce: The bill continues investments to support federal firefighters, including $2 million to create a $2 million health and wellness program for firefighters and requires at least $5 million be used for improving firefighter housing. Additionally, Senator Merkley supports proposals to authorize higher base pay for firefighters at the Forest Service and Department of the Interior and is committed to providing the required resources to implement any enacted compensation reforms in future legislation.

Wildfire Smoke Mitigation:  The bill provides $9 million, an increase of $2 million to the FY23 level, for the EPA wildfire grant program Merkley established to support efforts by States, Tribes, local governments, and nonprofit organizations to prepare for and protect against wildfire smoke hazards. Examples of this include grants for developing smoke mitigation and filtration plans for schools and community buildings. The bill continues to support the EPA’s wildfire smoke monitoring efforts as well as smoke forecasting and communication tools like AirNow Fire and Smoke Map.

Hazardous Fuels Reduction: The USFS and DOI are provided a total of $454 million for hazardous fuels reduction projects.

Forest Restoration: The bill builds on Senator Merkley’s priorities for the Forest Service, including $32 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program (CFLRP), which funds projects backed by diverse stakeholders to improve forest landscapes. This funding will allow the work of five collaboratives across Oregon to continue: Northern Blues (CFLRP), Southern Blues Restoration Coalition Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, Lakeview Collaborative Landscape Restoration Project, and Rogue Basin Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project.

Protecting Oregon’s Air and Water

As climate chaos continues to strain aging water infrastructure, the Interior bill makes major modernization investments to help ensure all Oregonians have access to clean and safe air and water—from dependable drinking water and sanitation to a needed water supply for ranchers and growers, to protecting Oregon’s iconic ecosystems.

Key elements in the Interior bill for water modernization and environmental protection include:

Water Infrastructure: The bill includes $75.6 million in critical water infrastructure loan programs under the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Authority (WIFIA) Act. Senator Merkley authored the WIFIA program in 2012, working to ensure public drinking water and wastewater infrastructure are well maintained to support public health and safety, strong local businesses, population growth, and clean rivers and aquifers. WIFIA was passed into law as part of the 2014 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

Environmental Protection Priorities: The bill protects EPA’s key programs and research, which safeguard communities from harmful pollution, from any and all cuts during a time of tight budget constraints. This includes $391.4 million for EPA enforcement and compliance efforts; $147.5 million for EPA clean air efforts; and $132.4 million for EPA’s toxic chemical program. The bill also includes $108 million for EPA’s environmental justice program.

Supporting Tribal Communities

Senator Merkley is deeply committed to ensuring Congress is upholding its trust and treaty responsibilities and providing fairness to Indian Country through the federal budget process.

Key elements in the Interior bill to support Tribes in Oregon and across the country include:

Advanced Appropriations for the Indian Health Service (IHS): The bill provides an advance appropriation of $5.22 billion in fiscal year 2025 for the IHS. Advance appropriations will improve the reliability of health care services provided by IHS to more than 2.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives by ensuring predictable funding and protecting services from future lapses in funding due to government shutdowns and unpredictable budget years. The IHS operates health care facilities within Oregon in Warm Springs and Salem. Additionally, the bill provides $82 million for staffing newly built IHS facilities around the country.

Tribal Programs and Services: The bill includes $11.2 billion in critical funding for Tribal communities across the country, including $7.17 billion for the IHS and $243.6 million for the Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program, which addresses water infrastructure challenges like those faced by the Warm Springs community. Additionally, the bill includes $95 million for the Bureau of Indian Education, which oversees 184 schools across 23 states.

Tribal Public Safety and Justice: The bill provides $592 million—a $12.5 million increase above the FY23 level—to support police services, special initiatives to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons cases, Tribal courts, and Detention and Corrections facilities.

Columbia River Treaty Fishing Access Sites: The bill provides $5.5 million for Columbia River In-Lieu Treaty Sites, including an increase of $1 million for fishing sites construction, to further implement Senator Merkley’s Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act.

Protecting Oregon’s Great Outdoors, Ecosystems, and Community Services

Senator Merkley is focused on preserving and growing protections for some of Oregon’s most incredible landmarks, lands, waters, and species.

The Interior bill includes huge investments to strengthen environmental protections and public lands, while supporting Oregon’s recreational economy and vital community services.

Klamath Basin Water and Wildlife Conservation: As a key part of Senator Merkley’s continued efforts toward a long-term solution in the Klamath Basin, Merkley included $21.63 million for water monitoring efforts and conservation, including native fish and wildlife habitat restoration, which is a $3 million increase compared to last year. This effort began after Senator Merkley hosted the pivotal Sucker Summit in 2018.

Columbia River Basin Restoration: The Columbia River Basin Geographic Program will receive a 17% increase to $3.5 million in the bill, the largest percentage increase of the EPA geographic programs, for restoration efforts in the basin.

Saline Lakes: The bill provides $1.75 million to expand a U.S. Geological Survey water monitoring assessment effort for saline lakes in the Great Basin, like Lake Abert in Oregon.

Land and Water Conservation Fund: The bill allocates $900 million for federal land acquisition and financial assistance to states provided through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This program is critical for improving recreational access to our federal lands, protecting iconic landscapes, creating and protecting urban parks and open spaces, and providing farmers and ranchers with easements to allow them to continue to steward their private lands in the face of development pressures. This includes $3.5 million for the Willamette Valley Conservation Area and $500,000 for Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act (FRIMA): The bill provides $5 million in funding for FRIMA, for fish passage devices, fish screens and other related features to mitigate water diversion impacts on fisheries in Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, and California. FRIMA is an important tool to conserve and restore native anadromous and resident fish populations in the Pacific Northwest.

Western Monarch Butterflies: The bill includes a directive for the USFWS to spend not less than $8 million for conservation activities for western monarch butterflies and other pollinators. This funding will go to continue to support critical conservation actions identified during Senator Merkley’s Monarch Summits, as well as the Center for Pollinator Conservation.

Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT): The bill fully funds payments to counties through the PILT program, which are estimated at a total of $515 million nationwide.

Now that the Interior bill has cleared the Appropriations Committee, it next heads to the Senate floor for a full vote before it can be conferenced with its counterpart bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. The final, merged legislation must then be passed by both chambers before it is signed into law.