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Walden to speed up relief for on-Project irrigators

A federal spending plan outlining emergency drought relief could be expedited for on-Project irrigators in the Klamath Basin via the Omnibus bill by Monday or earlier, according to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR).

The Hood River Congressman offered continuing support for Klamath Basin irrigators Wednesday afternoon during a joint press conference with Bureau of Reclamation officials at the South Portal Building in Klamath Falls.

With a roomful of attendees looking on, Walden said that prior to addressing the room, he took a phone call from the Office of Management and Budget regarding expedited review of about $10.3 million in emergency funds expected to help irrigators for pumping, land idling and disaster relief.


Walden said he is working closely with Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden to speed up the process for the funding from the Office of Budget and Management into the hands of irrigators.

“That funding ($10.3 million) now is working through the Bureau of Rec’s action plan for this coming fiscal year,” Walden said.

“We’re trying everything we can to bust it loose as soon as possible,” Walden added.

“Rather than the next few weeks, we’d like to see it in the next few days.”

“I would like to see most of it help with the cost of pumping, because if there is water, crops need water first and foremost,” he added during a question and answer session with media.

Walden also said, although lawmakers cannot earmark the funds, that it is well understood in Congress that the money will go toward relief for on-Project irrigators.

“There will be hell to pay if they take it and put it somewhere else,” Walden said, drawing laughter from attendees.

Walden also responded to the ruling issued by Ninth Circuit Court Judge William H. Orrick on Monday, which he said is having a “devastating” effect on the Basin regarding water and its availability.

Reclamation to appeal

Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office Manager Jeff Nettleton also addressed the order issued by Orrick, with intentions to appeal it. Nettleton and Reclamation officials are also working on how to implement the spending plan locally once funding becomes available.

“The current hydrology and current order that we’re under relative to the Endangered Species Act really has our hands tied and as far as the available water supply that we have to meet all the various needs in the Basin,” Nettleton said. “We went back to the court to try and amend that injunction order and get some relief specifically for the dilution flows and we were denied that injunctive relief.

“We intend to pursue an appeal to that court order as we work through a (biological opinion) re-consultation process,” he added.

Nettleton also clarified that Reclamation is not pursuing 14,500 acre feet of water from Clear Lake or Gerber Reservoir from Langell Valley and Horsefly irrigation districts, as reported by Herald and News on Tuesday.

“The last we understood, there were some discussions between TID (Tulelake Irrigation District) and those districts, but we had not heard that they are pursuing any of that water on those east side reservoirs,” Nettleton told the Herald and News on Wednesday. “TID could pursue that if they chose to, but I have not heard as of today even that they were intending to pursue that.”

Nettleton said Reclamation officials are working with Klamath Water Users Association and irrigation districts to find opportunities for additional water sources for the Project while still meeting legal requirements in the court order and Tribal trust responsibilities.

“All of us here in the Basin are working together as neighbors and that’s really important to make it through this challenging water year,” Nettleton said.

Scott White, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, agreed and emphasized about the court order that it doesn’t mean the Project will not have water.

“There still is a little bit of water,” White said, “that can create it’s own problems. And I would encourage everybody to talk to your neighbors, talk to your districts, and try and figure out how we are going to spread that water the best we can, because it is going to be extremely challenging.”

A 2 p.m. meeting today between irrigation district members planned at the Klamath Irrigation District offices today has been canceled, according to Brad Kirby, president of KWUA.

“We are maintaining close contact with the water users,” Nettleton said, noting the agency meets each Thursday with water users.

Nettleton also said he is working with Reclamation officials to have a plan to implement funding for irrigators as soon as Monday.

“We are working on the agreements and contracts to utilize groundwater, to convey that groundwater into Project facilities,” he added. “We are about there on those issues.”

Nettleton also clarified that while Reclamation is “actively looking” for additional sources of water to supplement the Project water supply, that individual districts are tasked with asking to utilize water from individual sources.


Well regulation

Walden also responded to OWRD’s shutoff of groundwater wells in Sprague River earlier this week, calling for as much “flexibility” as possible from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown in light of the water year as well as adherence to state water law.

“This Basin is suffering,” Walden said.

“They may have no flexibility, they may have to shut down but I sure hope they think long and hard about it if there is room to make a different decision, that they’ll take into account the impact on ranchers in the Upper Basin. Look, I know they’ve got legal obligations, not asking that they not follow the law, but sometimes there are close calls, and I hope in the area of close calls, given how many wells will be shut off, they’ll err on the side of letting a little water flow.”

Walden recalled being in Klamath Falls during the Bucket Brigade down Main Street in 2001, when there was no water delivered to the Project, and efforts that followed.

“I think we’ve got to take another look at the science, what’s working, what’s not,” Walden said, “and not repeat the same mistakes and get to a better outcome.”

Walden emphasized continued work with BOR’s Commissioner Brenda Burman and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has resulted in new authorities obtained by Reclamation through the Omnibus Bill, signed into law by President Donald Trump.

That includes movement of non-Project water through the Bureau of Reclamation facilities.

“We’re working with the Bureau to make sure that off-Project water that moves through the Project doesn’t end up being charged for it,” Walden said.

“I want to stress that this is authority that was never before in the law,” Walden added, “so we’re trying to get flexibility for water management in the Basin.”

Walden said he and others have been planning all along for the worst-case scenario in the Klamath Basin.

“And preparing to do everything we can to be helpful along the way,” Walden said.

Farm Service Agency offers support

Attendees of the joint press conference Wednesday afternoon at the South Portal Building also heard about emergency relief available to on-Project irrigators through Farm Service Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Some insurance programs have a deadline that has passed, said Peggy Browne, executive director for the Farm Service Agency, but she added that other programs are available for eligible applicants.

“Much of what we can offer is going to be predicated on the weather in the next couple of months,” Browne said.

“Get in as soon as possible,” Browne told water users. “Make an appointment with our local county folks.”

To make an appointment with Laura Hall at Klamath County FSA, call 541-883-6924 Ext. 2.




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