October 2, 2020
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed what lawmakers say is a critically needed fix to the 2018 Water Resources Development Act that would ease access to up to $10 million in relief to Klamath Basin irrigators struggling with drought.
The bipartisan legislation pushed by members of Oregon’s congressional delegation cleared the Senate in July and is now headed to President Donald Trump’s desk.
The bill provides more flexibility in how the relief approved two years ago may be used, enabling irrigators to access the funding when there is a severe shortage of water, according to a news release.
"Irrigators in the Klamath Basin are enduring another challenging, drought-stricken year, and we need to ensure they have the tools to get through it,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., whose district includes part of the basin. “We also need to be prepared if our farmers get hit with severe drought conditions in the years ahead.”
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, Walden’s release explains.
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. The legislation was advanced by Walden and Oregon’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.
The relief bill follows Reclamation’s July announcement that it will invest $1.2 million toward new scientific studies in the Klamath Basin that area lawmakers say will bring “new science” to the embattled region straddling the Oregon-California state line.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Commissioner of Reclamation Brenda Burman toured the basin in July and met with farmers, tribal leaders and others affected by the region’s water shortages. Reclamation backpedaled this summer on a plan to further slash water deliveries to basin farmers, as the agency stuck with an initial allocation of 140,000 acre-feet. Drought conditions prompted the allotment, which is only 40 percent of what farms receive in a normal year.
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