October 01, 2020

Merkley, Wyden, Walden Announce House Passage of Critical Fix to Help Klamath Irrigators

Legislation gives Basin irrigators access to up to $10 million in emergency drought relief

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with Representative Greg Walden, today announced that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a critically needed fix to the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that will provide relief to Klamath Basin irrigators who have been hard-hit by drought. The legislation was passed by the U.S. Senate in July of this year, and is now headed to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

In 2018, WRDA included language that was essential for irrigators in the Klamath Basin to effectively use $10 million in drought relief funds that the lawmakers had previously secured. The new bill provides clear flexibility in how the relief may be used, enabling irrigators to access the funding when there is a severe shortage of water.

“Through drought, the global pandemic, and most recently these unprecedented wildfires, Klamath Basin irrigators have shown they’re committed to working collaboratively with the many water stakeholders in the region, and it is critical that the federal government steps up to be a strong partner to their efforts,” said Merkley, who worked with the Bureau of Reclamation to develop the legislation. “To ensure that farming and ranching have a strong future in the Basin, we need to get through this drought and work on long-term solutions to our water supply challenges.  This fix will help us do that.”

“This legislation frees up urgently needed resources for farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin to help survive a 2020 that’s proven incredibly difficult with a brutal combination of drought, wildfires and COVID-19’s economic fallout,” Wyden said. “This bipartisan and collaborative solution takes a solid step forward for the Basin this year that can be built upon in the years ahead to reach a resolution to longstanding water supply challenges.”

“Irrigators in the Klamath Basin are enduring another challenging, drought-stricken year, and we need to ensure they have the tools to get through it. We also need to be prepared if our farmers get hit with severe drought conditions in the years ahead,” said Walden. “The Bureau of Reclamation needs the authority to use the funds we already secured to implement measures such as groundwater pumping and other priorities for our irrigators. This bill will ensure the Bureau of Reclamation has that authority for the next four years to help farmers, ranchers, and water users navigate the current water year and survive the difficult water years we may face in the near future. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in Congress, the Trump Administration, local officials, and community members to find lasting solutions to water issues in the Klamath Basin.”

Merkley used his seat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to include the language in the Senate’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization. With WRDA stalled, Merkley pivoted and introduced the language with Wyden as a stand-alone bill. Walden introduced the companion legislation in the House.

The original language authorized up to $10 million a year for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to work with the farming and ranching community to develop and implement strategies to align water demand with available supply. This technical correction clarifies the authority for irrigators to access the funds for strategies such as land idling and groundwater pumping in times of drought.