Merkley, Wyden, Bentz Announce Relief for Klamath Basin Irrigators, Klamath Tribes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, with Congressman Cliff Bentz (R-OR-2), today announced that irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project will receive $15 million in immediate aid and Klamath Basin tribes will receive $3 million in technical assistance, and that another $10 million will be available for drought assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, following the release of a water operations plan for the Klamath Reclamation Project.

“While it’s clear that both water and aid fall short of the need, this is a good first step in supporting communities through this extremely challenging water year,” said Merkley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds Department of Interior. “The congressional delegation is working closely with federal agencies and the White House to meet this crisis with the urgency it requires. We will continue to approach this as a shared effort among federal, state and local partners striving to provide both immediate assistance and support for long-term solutions.”

“I heard and saw firsthand last week in the Klamath Basin how farmers and the Klamath Tribes face the brutal prospect of another tough water year,” Wyden said. “While I’m glad that Senator Merkley and I teamed up to secure a total of $28 million in aid for the Basin, I also know full well that much more must be done to help southern Oregon weather this crisis. This is urgent business, and I’m treating it as such by working with all parties to find the solution this plight demands.”

“This is an incredibly difficult water year for those in the Klamath Basin, and I have been working with Oregon’s U.S. Senators to communicate and express the seriousness of this drought and its terrible impacts to the Biden Administration,” Bentz said. “Although there is still much more work to be done, these funds are important to providing an increased level of immediate relief to farmers. I thank Senator Merkley, Senator Wyden, and Department of Interior Secretary Haaland for working together to begin to address the ongoing needs in the Klamath Basin.”

The U.S. Department of Interior relief funding comes as the Bureau of Reclamation released the Klamath Reclamation Project’s 2021 Temporary Operations Plan. Because of extreme and persistent drought conditions, the water available is far short of the need for irrigation, wetlands, and endangered suckers.

The Interior Department resources will provide immediate aid to Project irrigators through the Klamath Project Drought Relief Agency, and will provide technical assistance to the Klamath Tribes for ecosystem activities in the Basin, as well as funding for groundwater monitoring by the State of Oregon. The Department of Agriculture assistance will allow the State of Oregon to tailor drought relief to agricultural producers who forego irrigation.

Additionally, on April 12, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack approved a drought declaration for Klamath, Coos, Curry, Jackson, Josephine, Douglas, and Lane Counties, which makes farmers and ranchers in those counties eligible additional emergency relief from the Farm Service Agency.

The latest push for relief follows a long history of support for the Klamath Basin through drought years that are becoming increasingly common: Merkley, with Wyden and former Congressman Greg Walden, fixed language in legislation to allow irrigators to access $10 million in drought relief; Merkley and Wyden have helped fund programs to support local water quality projects that came out of Merkley’s first-ever Sucker Recovery Summit; and since 2014, when Merkley joined the Appropriations Committee, $33 million has supported restoration projects by Klamath Tribes and farmers and ranchers in the Basin.