Wyden, Merkley Introduce Bill to Help Communities in the Klamath Basin Respond to Severe Drought

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron
Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they have introduced legislation that
would support farmers and ranchers responding to severe drought
and restoring fish and wildlife habitat in the Klamath Basin.

“The farmers
and ranchers in the Klamath Basin have weathered historic drought
with significant federal investment and assistance, but the
region is in desperate need of additional support, ” said
Wyden. “While I’m gratified
Senator Merkley and I brought resources for species recovery and habitat
restoration to the region in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, it’s clear that
more needs to be done to ensure the long-term viability of the Klamath Basin
natural resources and economy. Our bill helps to provides long-term support for
the community to ensure that farmers can make ends meet during drought years
while also protecting and restoring endangered fish habitat for
generations to come.”

“After years of
consecutive drought, farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin need a boost,” said
Senator Merkley, who serves as the Chairman of the Interior Subcommittee that
funds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.? “As efforts continue to implement the historic dam removal efforts in
the Klamath Basin, our bill is critical to fulfilling commitments made to the
farmers and ranchers on the Klamath Project as part of the historic Klamath
Basin Power and Facilities Agreement.”  

The ongoing drought conditions
have been devastating for communities in the Klamath Basin, with the
Bureau of Reclamation unable to meet the needs of communities in the basin. In
2021 — the worst year on record in 100 years — the Bureau of Reclamation
announced for the first time no water would be made available to the
farmers. That same year, canals in the area went without water,
causing hundreds of households to be without water for drinking,
cooking, sanitation, or other basic needs. Drought has
also hurt severely impacted Tribes in the basin, imperiling
culturally important fish and wildlife.

Wyden and Merkley’s Klamath Power and Facilities
Agreement Support Act
 would help address the needs of these
communities as they work together to realize long-term solutions by:

  • Authorizing Interior to enter into an agreement with Bonneville
    Power Administration to reduce the costs of power for the Irrigation Districts;
  • Authorizing Interior to complete physical projects that
    reduce the risk of fish entrapment, reduce or avoid impacts to fish and habitat
    caused by diversion of water for irrigation, and projects that restore fish
    habitat, including those held in trust by the Tribes;
  • Helping pay for the costs of operating an irrigation pumping
    plan in Tulelake;
  • Helping pay for the costs of replacing the C Irrigation
    Canal; and
  • Authorizing Interior to take ownership of Keno Dam from
    Pacificorp, once Pacificorp removes the lower four Klamath Dams.

“Senators Wyden and
Merkley have been consistent champions for delivering much-needed federal
resources to Klamath County,” said Klamath County Commissioner Kelley
Minty. “I am grateful they are
continuing to fight for the Basin’s critical needs by taking the additional
step of introducing this new legislation that provides a lifeline to local
farmers and ranchers devastated by drought as well as resources to protect and
recover fish and habitat that are so important to our tribal communities.”

Bill text is here.

Additionally, as part of their efforts to support the
region meet its water challenges, Wyden and Merkley successfully fought
for $162 million in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for habitat
restoration efforts in the Klamath Basin.