KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Federal leaders and congressmen, including Representative Greg Walden, visited Klamath Falls to meet with farmers in the Basin and discuss the water issues that they face.
Earlier this year, there were murmurs that the federal Bureau of Reclamation would further reduce the amount of water that irrigators in the area could access — with water already expected to be in short supply during this year's drought. Following a convoy organized by Klamath Falls farmers on May 29, it was announced that farmers in the Basin would get the original allotment of water they were promised.
Last Friday, Rep. Walden recounted traveling on Air Force One with President Donald Trump and Secretary Bernhardt. Walden said that he gave the President a letter detailing the ongoing drought conditions in the Klamath Basin, and the water rights issues that irrigators face.
Walden said that President Trump appeared interested in the issue after being presented with the letter, and told him to discuss the matter with U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Bernhardt.
Thursday's visit from federal officials at the Interior Department and the Bureau of Reclamation marks a step toward agencies in Washington better understanding conditions on the ground in the Klamath Basin.
"This whole day has been devoted to learning more about the issues," said Bernhardt. "Every decision we make has to be grounded in the facts, in the law. And, I think we're walking away from today with ideas for how we may look at this different."
Bernhardt said he would take those discussions back to Washington D.C. for further consideration. Both Rep. Walden and local farmers are hoping that it will lead to federal-level changes to improve the water usage situation.
"We take the information we gathered today and go back and have a bunch of meetings . . . and come back and collaborate with everyone else we've met with," Bernhardt said.
The representatives at Thursday's gathering also held meetings with tribal leaders and fisherman — who have historically comprised the other side of the water shortage debates in the Klamath Basin — to get an overall picture of the issues presented.
Realistically, any changes are expected to take quite some time — and Bernhardt was not able to give any specific ideas of what could happen.
Walden characterized the meeting as positive, thanking Secretary Bernhardt for coming to hear about farmers' struggles in the Klamath Basin. It was the first visit to the area from a Secretary of the Interior since 2002.