Klamath Basin receives $26 million for drought relief

Klamath Basin receives $26 million for drought relief

By:  Molly O'Brien

The parched communities of Klamath Basin are finally able to whet their whistles this week as millions of dollars are being distributed to quench the thirst of the drought-stricken county. The Interior Department issued a news release Tuesday, Aug. 23, announcing the allocation of federal funding to the Klamath Falls National Fish Hatchery and ecosystem restoration projects in the amount of $26 million.

For 20 years, ongoing drought in the Klamath Basin has caused tensions to run high as the water supply has dwindled. Water allocations are at "historic lows," according to multiple news releases this year from the Department of Interior. This resulted in the destruction of important ecosystems, severe economic decline and strained relationships between groups, including the Klamath Tribes and the agricultural communities, according to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

Another $3 million, provided by the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and matched contributions, will fund 10 grants for the Trinity River Restoration and the Klamath River Coho Restoration Grant Programs.

Funding A portion of the Biden administration's $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) was devoted to conservation efforts for American public lands in the sum of $1.4 billion. The Interior Department previously earmarked $162 over five years for the Klamath Basin.

The most recent dispersal of funds will allocate $10 million to the fish hatchery for an expansion to the facility. Once completed, the hatchery will be capable of raising up to 60,000 of the endangered C'waam and Koptu (Lost River and shortnose suckers).

The departments said that the remaining $16 million will be granted to restoration efforts across the Basin that aim to improve water quality suffering from toxic algal blooms; restore wildlife habitats, including waterfowl wetlands; and support endangered, endemic species of fish which are sacred and crucial to the Klamath Tribes.

Clay Dumont, Chairman of the Klamath Tribes Council, said the tribes have received approximately $5.75 million in restoration funding, $3 million of which came from funding put in place by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and the rest was allocated from the BIL.

Dumont said the tribes will be putting the money toward projects which will improve the natural habitat of C’waam and Koptu populations.

"One of the problems we have had perennially is that we don’t meet the biological minimum requirements in the lake for spawning in spring," Dumont said.

He explained the requirements are defined and protected by the Endangered Species Act but have been "disregarded" for three consecutive years.

The Klamath Tribes received $50,000 to increase their spawning sucker habitats (Ambodat).

The Tribes also received $913,000 for the salmon reintroduction efforts.

Trinity River Restoration and Klamath River Coho Restoration Grant Programs are two in the Basin whose efforts are put toward recovery of the coho population. Combined, they received $2.2 million from BIL, and an additional $700,000 from matched contributions.

Collaboration In April of 2021, the Biden-Harris administration formed the Interagency Drought Relief Working Group, co-chaired by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, for the purpose of working toward solutions to the ongoing water crises across the West.

"Water is a sacred resource. This Interagency Working Group will deliver a much-needed proactive approach to providing drought assistance to U.S. communities, including efforts to build long-term resiliency to water shortages," Haaland said in an Interior Department news release. "We are committed to using every resource available to our bureaus to ensure that Tribes, irrigators and the adjoining communities receive adequate assistance and support."

The Departments held collaborative meetings in the Basin earlier this year to better understand the plights relative to drought that are affecting the ecosystem, wildlife habitats, the Klamath Tribes and agriculture production. These included local and state officials, non-governmental organizations, the Tribes and other affected communities.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., expressed appreciation for the relief and support the Basin is receiving.

"With no rain in immediate sight this summer, there’s obviously much more work to be done during this brutally tough water year," Wyden said. "But I’m gratified the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has generated these federal resources for species recovery and habitat restoration to make sure every precious drop of water goes as far as possible in the Basin."