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TULELAKE, Calif. -- The Siskiyou and Modoc County’s Board of Supervisors and Klamath County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to 10 lawmakers that represent their regions and a letter to President Biden to bring attention to the water crisis impacting Southern Oregon and Northern California.
The letter begins stating that the area is at the "beginning of a disastrous water year where the Bureau of Reclamation has announced 33-thousand acre-feet of available irrigation supply from Upper Klamath Lake," explaining that is less than 10% than what's needed for farmers.
According to statements in the letters, this lack of water will impact crops, which will impact food and fiber throughout the world, thousands of farm and ranch workers will be without employment, businesses that rely on farming will lose revenue and local national wildlife refuges will also suffer, specifically impacting the Pacific Flyway.
The letter to congress men and women requests a minimum of $45 dollars for funding programs of the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency (DRA). Right now, there is $15 million available, leaving a shortfall of $30 million in funding.
The letter to state senators and representatives also addresses concerns surrounding politics and politicians using the water crisis to further their own agendas, rather than working together to find better solutions for all those who need water.
The letter approved today to be sent to President Biden’s office specifically addresses the April 16th letter from local tribes and fishermen, requesting federal disaster relief that can serve as a down payment towards long-term solutions.
The supervisors and commissioners stated in today's letter that they have concerns over items outlined in the April letter, one specific concern being funding requests that appear to target the permanent retirement of agricultural land and water, according to the letter approved for the President today.
The counties stating that they cannot support discussions and efforts that center around permanent retirement of family farms and ranches, stating, "not only are these family operations a rich part of the basin's history, but they provide the foundation for our economies."
The letter urges President Biden from extinguishing the agricultural community in order to promote the fishing community.
Counties also mentioned concerns about funding for the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA) saying that Siskiyou County continually submits concerns about the KHSA through the FERC process; not only that, but counties state there has been a decade of assurances that the KHSA would not rely on federal funding.
The three counties stating that they are "wholly concerned with the unaddressed needs of the Klamath Project”, including the KHSA and negative consequences to upper basin agriculture that would result from dam removal, according to statements made in today’s approved letter.
The counties want to see further discussion of solutions that would address the decline of sucker species and Coho salmon but also state that for more than 20 years, solutions have been focused on increasing lake levels and Iron Gate flows and decreasing agricultural deliveries, claiming that there has been no progress in fish survival.
The letter ends by stating "We fully understand that in the midst of this water year there is bound to be tension, fracturing and competition amongst stakeholders. We hope this letter serves to acknowledge our desire to continue to promote the need for collaboration and long-term solutions that provide a benefit for all involved."
Following the approval of the two letters, which will be signed by the present parties at today’s tri-county meeting, all three counties also discussed and agreed on a need for an investment in water infrastructure in order to avoid future drought and water crisis in southern Oregon and northern California.
County leaders discussed what could be done to call attention to the issue and educate those that live outside of the impacted area about what life is like in the drought-stricken basin.
The three counties discussed possible awareness campaigns through a public relations professional and funding to create educational tourist attraction in casual discussion but each idea requires money.
One point of funding that everyone could agree on was the need for water infrastructure.
Right now, infrastructure is a hot topic as President Biden works to pass a multi-trillion-dollar plan.
As it stands the presidents infrastructure plan would invest $17 billion in inland waterways, coastal ports, land ports of entry, and ferries but it's not clear if any of those waterway funds would impact Siskiyou, Modoc or Klamath counties.
President Biden is also including a call to modernize these systems by scaling up existing, successful programs, including providing $56 billion in grants and low-cost flexible loans to states, tribes, territories, and disadvantaged communities across the country. Again, it’s not clear if the tri-county area could benefit from these grants but farmers definitely want to see the area's water crisis in discussions in Washington, something they hope today’s approved letters will achieve.