Senator Merkley Calls for Additional Disaster Relief for Klamath Basin Drought

I rise to discuss a huge challenge in the State of Oregon–specifically, a drought that is affecting the southern Klamath Basin.  This is an area that had a terrible drought in 1992.  This drought set everyone in this basin against each other.  How do you allocate those few precious drops of water between the river and the lake, and the irrigation, and the fish, and the farmers?

   It is terribly tough when it doesn’t rain. It so happens that this year, the water that has come into the lake is lower than at any time the water levels have been recorded and lower by very significant amounts.  So this isn’t just a shortfall of rain below the average or a modest few weeks without precipitation; this is the worst drought in the Klamath Basin in recorded history.  That is why it has received status as a Federal disaster.  The Governor of Oregon wrote on March 16 and April 5 requesting a disaster designation for Klamath County, OR, due to the losses caused by the ongoing drought and related disasters, and the Department of Agriculture assessed that and issued that disaster declaration.  There are well over 1,000 families–about 1,400 families–that farm the Klamath Basin and about 200,000 acres of land in that very productive region.

   As we have immersed ourselves in discussions with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior, there are a couple key strategies that can be pursued to prevent what is a terrible situation right now from being an utter and total disaster by August and September.  And, those strategies are pumping ground water, which is quite expensive due to the power needs, and of idling land–asking some farmers who have water rights to set aside their rights for modest payments, and by modest, I mean less than $200 an acre for highly fertile ground.  But that greatly reduces the size of this disaster to the community.

   I really want to applaud the hard work that the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior have done.  They have worked to reprogram – to make those modest changes so they are allowed to free up a small amount of funds, a modest amount of funds.  But to really address this situation, to idle basically what amounts to a fourth of that land, it takes $10 million.

   I have an amendment filed, amendment No. 4251, that I hope will have a chance to be brought up and considered later on because we are addressing some major disasters around the country in this appropriations legislation, and it is certainly appropriate, when you have a declared Federal disaster in my State, to have this modest amount of money, in comparison to the other requests, receive consideration for the community.

   I want to note that Senator Wyden from Oregon and Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein are very supportive and cosponsors, because this Klamath Basin, it is on the boundary between Oregon and California, so there is territory within both States that is affected by this disaster and would be assisted by this remedy.

   So I will wrap up my remarks to give opportunity for others to take the floor, but I do ask my colleagues: We have a federally declared disaster in Oregon that needs a modest amount of help, and I would ask for the opportunity to have this request duly considered by this body as this debate progresses.