KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Less than three weeks after a visit to the Klamath Basin from lawmakers and Trump administration officials, the federal government has delivered a promise to fund "new science" in the region that could eventually shift how water is allocated to parched farm lands.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says it will invest $1.2 million into researching the area's water woes. According to Representative Greg Walden, that funding will go toward a study of "new naturalized flow" on the Klamath River, an evaluation of the flow and habitat relationship, refining the salmon survival model, and developing a salmon disease and hydrology data portal.
"This new funding will support science-based initiatives that will help get us closer to finding a solution for the Basin that benefits the farmers, fish, and tribes," Rep. Walden said. "I look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Bernhardt and the Trump Administration on finding a solution to the decades old Klamath Basin Water Crisis and I applaud their steadfast commitment to this issue."
Under existing policy and court rulings, the amount of water available for irrigators in the basin is limited by what remains after preserving water volumes in Upper Klamath Lake for endangered "sucker" species — two of which are considered sacred by the Klamath Tribe — and flushing water into the Klamath River to reduce disease for coho salmon.
For all stakeholders, tensions over water allocation typically flare up during drought years, like this one.
The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), a group that represents Basin farmers and ranchers, claims that the regulations put in place under the Endangered Species Act have resulted in "no positive response" from fish populations, but have hurt local communities. The group believes that more research will vindicate those claims.
“[U.S. Department of the Interior] Secretary Bernhardt made it very clear in our meeting that future decisions will be based on good science,” said KWUA president Tricia Hill. “That is music to our ears.”
Farmers and ranchers have typically run into opposition from local tribes like the Klamath and Yurok, in addition to fishers along the Pacific coast, and environmental groups — all of whom are invested in seeing native fish populations rebound. According to Reclamation's deputy regional director Jeff Payne, the coming research will be "helpful to all stakeholders."