Merkley, Wyden Announce Passage of Critical Fix to Help Klamath Irrigators

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced that the Senate has passed a critically needed fix to the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that will provide relief to Klamath Basin irrigators who have been hard-hit by drought.

In 2018, 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 technical correction provides clear flexibility in how the relief may be used, enabling irrigators to access the funding when there is a severe shortage of water, like there is this summer.

“Through drought, wildfires, and now the coronavirus pandemic, Klamath Basin irrigators have shown they’re committed to working collaboratively with the many water stakeholders in the region, and it is imperative that the federal government step up and do all it can to assist,” Merkley said. “As the Basin grapples with a particularly difficult season, this correction will allow farmers to access much-needed resources as they continue long-term work to address water supply challenges in the region.”

“Southern Oregon knows this will be a tough water year, and this bill would provide timely and vital clarity to free up money for farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin facing these challenges in real time,” Wyden said. “Senate passage of this legislation takes a significant step forward to help the Basin, and I’m all in with pressing forward on the remaining steps to get this important bill across the finish line.”

“This technical fix is long overdue, and with the Klamath Basin facing a drought, this couldn’t come at a better time,” said Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR-2). “Our farmers in the basin need all the help they can get. I’m glad that Senator Merkley and Senator Wyden were able to pass this through the Senate and I look forward to working with my colleagues in House to move this to the president’s desk for signing.”

“We cannot adequately express our appreciation for Senator Merkley’s leadership and efforts to make this happen in the U.S. Senate,” said Paul Simmons, Executive Director of Klamath Water Users Association.  “And the bill could not have passed the Senate without Senator Wyden’s hard work or Representative Walden’s key role in explaining to the Senate majority that this is a good thing.  Our Congressional delegation’s bipartisan approach to Klamath Basin issues is refreshing and welcome.”

Merkley used his seat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to include the language in the Senate’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization. With WRDA stalled, Merkley pivoted and introduced the language with Wyden as a stand-alone bill. Walden introduced companion legislation in the House. With the bill’s passage in the Senate, the next step for it to be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

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.