WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hailed by Oregon's Republicans and Democrats alike, the passage of the Water Resources Development Act in the U.S. Senate could be good news for parched farmers in the Klamath Basin.
“This legislation marks a significant win for farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin,” said U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). “I am committed to building on this progress and ensuring the federal government continues to be a helpful partner for everybody committed to a long-term solution to meet the region’s water challenges.”
Included in the larger bill is $10 million in drought relief funds per year for four years, slated directly for the Klamath Basin.
The funds will go to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation so they can "work with the farming and ranching community to develop and implement strategies to align water demand with available supply," according to a statement from Senators Wyden and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
The bill also authorizes the Bureau to develop a plan for "reduced-cost power for irrigation, with a preference for efficiency, conservation, and local renewable energy projects, including hydropower."
While Wyden and Merkley helped push the bill through the Senate, their Republican colleague Representative Greg Walden was instrumental in first including the Klamath Basin when the bill percolated in the House of Representatives.
“This measure will help ensure our farmers, ranchers, and water users are able to survive this challenging water year and will help prepare us for severe drought conditions we may face in the near future,” said Walden.
According to the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) — a coalition of farming advocates that have been fighting to provide irrigators in the area with sufficient water in the face of drought conditions — the new bill is a step in the right direction.
“We’ve been pushing for a ‘fix’ to these issues for a long time,” said Luther Horsley, Board Member at KWUA and farmer near Midland, Oregon. “This is a good start and will really benefit growers who are struggling to navigate through these tough times, and help us continue our efficient water management and use.”
The KWUA claims that farmers have seen a rise in power costs "upwards of 2000%" and a decline in the efficiency of crop production because costs have continued to climb. The new bill would attempt to correct for those issues and would also clear the way for farmers to use canals to convey groundwater without "unnecessary delays and red tape."
Water in the Klamath Basin has been a highly controversial and sensitive issue for years, with the area failing to boast enough water to buoy both irrigation and fish populations — a divide that has pitted farmers, feds, environmentalists and Native American tribes against one another in a revolving door of lawsuits and countersuits.