Congressional Delegation pushes flexibility in $10M water relief
The Klamath Project Drought Response Agency and Klamath Water
Users Association expressed excitement Wednesday about a
technical change to the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)
that will provide more flexible access for up to $10 million in
drought relief to Klamath Basin irrigators, many of whom have
had their operations deeply impacted by the 2020 drought.
In 2018, WRDA included language that was essential for
irrigators in the Klamath Basin to effectively use $10 million
in drought relief funds that the lawmakers had previously
secured. The new technical correction provides clear flexibility
in how the relief may be used, enabling irrigators to access the
funding when there is a severe shortage of water, like there is
this summer. U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both
Oregon Democrats, announced the passage of the change by the
U.S. Senate to the relief bill on Wednesday.
Marc Staunton, president of the Klamath Project Drought Response
Agency, said the added flexibility to use the already secured
funds is welcomed, especially by irrigators who are idling their
land in hopes of maintaining the water supply throughout the
“We’ve had over 150 well applications … people that are
currently pumping groundwater right now to help the Project
out,” Staunton told Herald and News in a phone interview.
“We’ve had over 30,000 acres of idled applications all with
basically a promise that they’ll be paid something, so being
able to turn that promise into a hard number for people is
pretty top of our list.”
Staunton said the relief is not new funding, but is money that
the KPDRA have been counting on to perform the DRA functions.
“It secures a portion of that money right away and makes it a
lot more clear of the path we need to take to secure the
remaining funds,” Staunton said.
“We were banking water in Upper Klamath Lake for fish and
wildlife benefit over the last month and a half and we finally
just received the credit,” Staunton added.
Staunton said while the KPDRA isn’t fully funded to immediately
reimburse individuals who are idling acreage this summer, the
relief bill gives a much firmer foundation of having secured the
“Somebody can’t collect on the contract until after the ending
date,” Staunton said.
“The point of the dryland program is to reduce the demand for
the full season but if people want to know what price they would
receive for doing that the whole season … We’re one step closer
in being able to accurately tell people what they could expect
if they perform for the full contract period.”
Paul Simmons, executive director of Klamath Water Users
Association, expressed appreciation to the Oregon Congressional
Delegation for their leadership efforts behind the approval of
the water relief funding in the U.S. Senate.
“...The bill could not have passed the Senate without Senator
(Ron) Wyden’s hard work or Representative Walden’s key role in
explaining to the Senate majority that this is a good thing. Our
Congressional delegation’s bipartisan approach to Klamath Basin
issues is refreshing and welcome,” Simmons said in a news
U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Wyden, both Oregon Democrats, and
Congressman Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, all commented on
federal efforts to ensure Klamath Project irrigators have access
to water relief in the legislation.
“Through drought, wildfires, and now the coronavirus pandemic,
Klamath Basin irrigators have shown they’re committed to working
collaboratively with the many water stakeholders in the region,
and it is imperative that the federal government step up and do
all it can to assist,” Merkley said in a news release. “As the
Basin grapples with a particularly difficult season, this
correction will allow farmers to access much-needed resources as
they continue long-term work to address water supply challenges
in the region.”
“Southern Oregon knows this will be a tough water year, and this
bill would provide timely and vital clarity to free up money for
farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin facing these
challenges in real time,” Wyden said in a news release. “Senate
passage of this legislation takes a significant step forward to
help the Basin, and I’m all in with pressing forward on the
remaining steps to get this important bill across the finish
Merkley used his seat on the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee to include the language in the Senate’s Water
Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization. With WRDA
stalled, Merkley pivoted and introduced the language with Wyden
as a stand-alone bill, according to a news release.
Walden introduced companion legislation in the House. With the
bill’s passage in the Senate, the next step is for it to be
passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
“This technical fix is long overdue, and with the Klamath Basin
facing a drought, this couldn’t come at a better time,” Walden
said in a news release. “Our farmers in the basin need all the
help they can get. I’m glad that Senator Merkley and Senator
Wyden were able to pass this through the Senate and I look
forward to working with my colleagues in House to move this to
the president’s desk for signing.”
The original language authorized up to $10 million a year for
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to work with the farming and
ranching community to develop and implement strategies to align
water demand with available supply, according to a news release.
This technical correction clarifies the authority for irrigators
to access the funds for strategies such as land idling and
groundwater pumping in times of drought.
For more information about the Klamath
Project Drought Response Agency, go online at http://www.klamathwaterbank.com/.
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