WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden say they are working with Congressman Cliff Bentz to get aid for the Klamath Basin as it faces a particularly dry year.
Klamath County received an official drought declaration from Governor Kate Brown at the end of March — citing low snowpack, sparse precipitation, low streamflows, and predicted warm temperatures. Meanwhile, irrigators in the Klamath Basin say that the Biden administration has withdrawn Trump-era legal guidance that was more sympathetic to their cause.
"The now-revoked guidance had been prepared after irrigation water users requested that the Department of the Interior re-examine 25-year-old memoranda issued by Regional Solicitors of the Bureau of Reclamation," the Klamath Water Users Association said in a statement last week. "Secretary Bernhardt had cautioned, 'be careful what you ask for,' but the legal analysis was conducted, and the guidance was completed."
While drought has increasingly impacted all stakeholders in the Klamath Basin, there is long-running conflict over the limited water supply between farmers and ranchers on one side and local Tribes, environmentalists, and Pacific coast fishers on the other.
In a statement released Wednesday, Merkley, Wyden, and Bentz said that they had met with newly-confirmed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to discuss the dire outlook for the Klamath Basin and the emergency resources that will be needed for relief:
“Communities in the Basin are facing another year of hardship. As drought conditions persist and worsen, the water supply that is critical for tribal, agricultural and environmental interests will be stretched desperately thin. We know this comes on top of challenges caused by the global pandemic, unprecedented wildfires, and ongoing recovery from the impacts of previous drought years.
“We’ve been heartened as stakeholders over the years have set aside conflicts to come together and work toward solutions—and this year it will be even more important to find a community approach. We are committed to pushing hard for an emergency effort that will support community-driven efforts to provide relief for irrigators and the Klamath Tribes, and support the long-term restoration endeavors we’ve worked closely with stakeholders in the Basin to develop.
“After speaking with Secretary Haaland again today, we are assured that federal agencies and the White House are preparing to meet the water crisis with the urgency it requires, identifying immediate assistance and relief for the irrigators and tribes who will suffer economic and environmental impacts.
“We all understand that tensions are high right now, and we encourage everyone in the Basin to look to peaceful collaboration to grapple with another difficult year. It’s going to take a shared effort, from D.C. to Salem to the Basin, to support collaborative community efforts, help all stakeholders get to the other side of this water year, and continue to advance the long-term work to address ongoing water resource challenges.”