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Lawmakers push for millions in Klamath Basin relief funds

Congressmen Cliff Bentz and Doug LaMalfa have proposed a $57 million aid proposal to help stakeholders in the Klamath Basin suffering amid this latest year of major drought.

Posted: May 20, 2021 12:02 PM

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With precious little water available for farmers and other stakeholders in the Klamath Basin this year, two Congressmen who represent large areas of southern Oregon and northern California are pushing for millions of dollars in relief funding for the region.

U.S. Representatives Cliff Bentz and Doug LaMalfa, of Oregon and California respectively, have put forward a $57 million proposal to assist the Klamath Basin. Much of the funding would take the form of monetary aid for farmers, with some elements going toward infrastructure, wildlife refuges, and Tribes.

The lawmakers pointed to a decision from the federal Bureau of Reclamation earlier this month to halt diversions of water from Upper Klamath Lake for irrigation, which leaves the majority of farmers without a water supply.

“Last week’s decision by the Bureau of Reclamation to eliminate water deliveries to farmers and wildlife is absolutely crippling to the Klamath Basin," Rep. LaMalfa said. "The federal government has failed to properly manage the water in the Basin, and Congress must take action to help prevent further damage to the area’s residents, crops, and wildlife. Congressman Bentz and I are committed to offer solutions and will work with any partner to help deliver needed aid and get the region through this crisis.”

Particularly amid a severe drought year, the Bureau faces competing demands for the water stored in Upper Klamath Lake, governed by a complex web of laws and court rulings that stretch back years. Farmers in the Basin require diversion of the water for irrigation needs, Tribes along the Klamath River have fought for flows downstream to spare native salmon species from disease, and the Klamath Tribes want to preserve water stored in Upper Klamath Lake in an attempt to save the Lost River and Shortnose sucker species.

The severity of the 2021 drought is such that none of the major stakeholders are particularly pleased with the outcome. The Yurok Tribe reports that low spring flows have resulted in a die-off in young salmon due to rampant disease, and the Klamath Tribes worry that low water levels in Upper Klamath Lake will exacerbate the decline of sucker species even with irrigation curtailed.

The proposal introduced by Reps. Bentz and LaMalfa primarily seeks to get Basin farming communities through the crisis, signaling that the roughly $25 million in aid previously made available by the federal government will not be enough.

“The catastrophic drought and historic zero water allocation by the Bureau of Reclamation have been absolutely crushing to irrigators, water users, and wildlife in the Klamath Basin," said Bentz. "I have already worked – and will continue working – with Oregon’s U.S. Senators to secure assistance for those in the Basin. However, our farmers simply cannot ride out this crisis or afford to rely on current measures to deal with this catastrophic drought. I appreciate the commitment by Congressman LaMalfa to lead with me in the House of Representatives on requesting enhanced, immediate relief for those in the Klamath. We are focused on elevating the needs of everyone in the community for further federal action.”

The proposal allocates $40 million in aid for farmers through USDA programs, $2.5 million to wildlife refuges, $2.5 million for families with parched residential wells, $4 million to water districts for canal repair, $3 million for commercial fisherman impacted by the loss of salmon on the lower Klamath, and $5 million in food aid for Tribes.

Bentz and LaMalfa said that the proposal would also shield farmers from paying for Bureau of Reclamation operations in the Basin for the 2021 season, while defunding a planned $4.5 million Reclamation headquarters in Klamath Falls.

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