August 02, 2021

Merkley, Wyden, Bentz Announce Additional $15 Million Headed to Klamath Basin to Address Historic Water Crisis

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with Representative Cliff Bentz (R-OR-2), announced today that an additional $15 million in drought relief will be delivered to help irrigators in the Klamath Basin who are suffering through historic, severe drought.  

This funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture adds to the $18 million that the lawmakers secured earlier this summer for water users—including irrigators, Klamath Tribes, and wetlands—in the Klamath Basin.

“We still have a long way to go to provide farmers, ranchers, and the Tribes with the assistance they need to get through this extremely difficult water year—but today’s emergency relief is another step in the right direction,” said Merkley. “We are working alongside the White House and all of the relevant federal agencies and departments to deliver the assistance everyone in the Klamath Basin desperately needs, and will continue to work collaboratively with local leaders and state partners to implement a long-term strategy to tackle this crisis.”

“This $15 million in federal funds is both timely and essential help for farmers in the Klamath Basin battling to survive another difficult year on top of the years-long drought that’s hit them and the Klamath Tribes,” Wyden said. “While I’m gratified to have teamed up on a bipartisan basis with the congressional delegation to secure this aid in addition to the assistance earlier this year, I’ll keep working on the immediate and longer-term help that southern Oregon needs during this crisis.” 

“I hope this additional aid will come as welcome news to many suffering in the Klamath Basin during this incredibly difficult year,” said Bentz. “However, we will need to continue working across the aisle and within the community to secure further drought relief measures and to bring together everyone in the Basin to discuss long term solutions to this serious matter.”

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Reclamation released the Klamath Reclamation Project’s 2021 Temporary Operations Plan. Because of extreme and persistent drought conditions, the water available is far short of the need for irrigation, wetlands, and endangered suckers. In response, Merkley, Wyden and Bentz worked with the Department of Interior to provide $15 million in aid for irrigators and $3 million in technical assistance and other grants for impacted tribes.

As Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Merkley was able to secure $162 million to support habitat restoration and fish recovery efforts in the Klamath Basin over the next five years in the proposed bipartisan infrastructure bill. Merkley also secured $500 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program, which will support irrigation modernization in the Klamath Basin and across the West.  

The relief funding follows a long history of support for the Klamath Basin through drought years that are becoming increasingly common: Merkley, with Wyden and former Congressman Greg Walden, fixed language in legislation to allow irrigators to access $10 million in drought relief; Merkley and Wyden have helped fund programs to support local water quality projects that came out of Merkley’s first-ever Sucker Recovery Summit; and since 2014, when Merkley joined the Appropriations Committee, $33 million has supported restoration projects by Klamath Tribes and farmers and ranchers in the Basin.