Merkley Announces Restoration Projects to Help Address Ongoing Water Crisis in Klamath Basin

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley today announced $11.6 million of habitat restoration projects in the Klamath Basin, part of continued efforts toward a long-term solution for water resource challenges in the region.

Merkley—the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill—secured the funding in the fiscal year 2020 spending bill, which was signed into law in December, for projects that would help restore fish habitat and scale up ongoing efforts to restore healthy populations of shortnose (Koptu) and Lost River (C’waam) suckers.

“Both irrigators and the Klamath Tribes have expressed to me the desire to find collaborative solutions to water resource issues,” Merkley said. “In the face of extreme drought and other water resource challenges, stakeholders across the board have come together to begin addressing one piece of the puzzle: endangered sucker survival.

“We all have a lot more collaboration and hard work ahead of us to address these water challenges, but funding these projects is a positive step forward,” he continued. “I am heartened that through these unprecedented times, stakeholders continue to show an openness to working together on this urgent issue, and I am committed to being a partner through the difficult path ahead.”

“Restoration is necessary for the health of fish and wildlife species in the Basin, as well as the economic health of the broader southern Oregon community,” said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. “When restoration succeeds, important cultural resources are sustained for tribes, and farmers and ranchers endure less pressure on their day-to-day operations. These resources mark a good step toward achieving all those goals.”

In November 2018, Merkley convened the first-ever Sucker Recovery Summit to share updates on the health of the species and to discuss possible short-term options to help suckers survive until long-term solutions take effect. The senator developed the science summit after meeting with Klamath-area stakeholders affected by water resource issues; all parties pointed to sucker survival as a critical element to water availability.

Out of the summit came several action items, including vital habitat restoration work to address the fundamental problem of sucker survival. To that end, the $11.632 million that Merkley secured will fund the following projects:

  • $3.75 million for Klamath Basin restoration activities through the National Fish Hatchery System operations: The Klamath Tribes will receive $500,000 for their efforts to rear and raise suckers at their facility near Chiloquin. An additional $3.25 million will expand the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “Gone Fishing” sucker propagation project. Merkley toured the site last year.
  • $2.75 million for habitat assessment and restoration: Tribal nations—including the Klamath Tribes, Yurok Tribe, and Karuk Tribe—will receive $1 million for water quality monitoring and fish restoration projects. Another $430,000 will support three Coalition of the Willing projects identified through the collaborative process. And $760,000 will go to a variety of other fish restoration projects, and $560,000 to several water quality and supply studies.
  • $5.132 million for Klamath River habitat restoration through the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program: More than $3.9 million will be used to support 21 restoration projects in areas vital to fish survival, including wetlands and farmland around Upper Klamath Lake and habitats in the Sprague River, Wood River and Lost River basins. Additionally, $1.2 million will fund five years of support from the Klamath Tribes for the restoration projects.

Implementation of the various projects is expected to begin this June.

“On behalf of the Klamath Tribes, I thank Senator Merkley for his continued interest in doing everything possible to recover the endangered C’waam and Koptu,” said Don Gentry, Chairman of the Klamath Tribes. “His vision for the Sucker Recovery Summit provided an opportunity to cooperatively identify and consider projects focused on addressing the complex problems threatening the very survival of these fish. This funding that Senator Merkley secured gives us hope that we will continue to make progress in protecting and increasing the populations of the endangered C’waam and Koptu, so very important to our people.”

“Senator Merkley has been a champion for the Basin in our sucker recovery efforts,” said Tracey Liskey, property owner with the Gone Fishing effort. “With his help cutting red tape and getting additional resources to support these projects, we should be able to help the fish in Klamath Lake become healthy and abundant, helping work toward Basin stakeholders finding water solutions.”

“We strongly support effective environmental restoration projects and actions to perpetuate endangered suckers such as the Gone Fishing project,” said Paul Simmons, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. “At this time, irrigation water users in the Klamath Project are suffering because Klamath Project water is looked to for solving all the Basin’s fisheries challenges, which we know is a strategy for failure. We appreciate Senator Merkley’s efforts to bring about actual environmental benefits, which will not occur by continued regulation of Klamath Project water.”

“The Klamath Basin Coalition of the Willing has worked hard in recent months to develop and build broad support for the project proposals that will now be funded by these resources. We thank Senator Merkley for securing this funding, and for his support of all of our efforts here in the Basin,” said Rich Wilson, facilitator of the Coalition of the Willing, a diverse collaborative of local counties and towns; Native American Tribes; farmers, ranchers and irrigation districts; environmental interests, business interests and others. “Bringing people together to advance important work across the region will help build trust, reduce conflict, and support communication and networking among committed leaders working across the Klamath Basin, yet toward a common goal of economic and environmental sustainability.”