Merkley, Wyden ask feds for rapid, coordinated effort in drought-stricken Klamath

WASHINGTON – Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden begged the federal government Tuesday for “immediate and coordinated” assistance to help Klamath Basin farmers and the environment cope with a drought of “historic magnitude.”

The plea came in a joint letter to three cabinet secretaries whose agencies have direct involvement in the devastated region – Gary Locke at the Commerce Department, Tom Vilsack at  the Agriculture Department and the Interior Department’s Ken Salazar.

“Put simply, the Klamath Lake that supplies water to the farmers and the river is at its lowest level since measurements began in the 1970s,” the letter said. “Its current level is significantly below where it was in 1992 – the worst drought year ever in the Klamath Basin.

“The drought currently facing the Klamath Basin would deal a devastating blow to farmers, Klamath Basin Tribes, and fishermen, as well as to the salmon and other species in the Klamath River.  Nothing short of an unprecedented, integrated and expansive set of responses is required.”

The letter notes that the current water level in Klamath Lake is one foot below the lowest recording of the drought in 1992 which was the worst in recorded history.

While the effort will help wildlife and salmon, the letter from Merkley and Wyden is primarily aimed at getting help for farmers as planting season approaches.

“We believe that no single action will adequately address the projected water shortfall caused by this year’s drought.  For example, it is our understanding that drought wells cover no more than 20 percent of the irrigated farm land in the Basin.  Swift, decisive and coordinated action is needed to provide an integrated set of solutions before the planting season begins in the next several weeks. We certainly do not want to put farmers in a situation where they need to plant their crops and then subsequently let them fail in order for the farmers to be eligible for drought assistance,” they said in the letter.