February 11, 2014

Oregon Senators Introduce Drought Relief Legislation

$300 million in emergency funds for drought-relief projects, economic assistance programs on West coast

WASHINGTON – Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden this week teamed up with Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-CA) to introduce drought relief legislation to help farmers, businesses and communities suffering from historic drought conditions in Oregon and California. The legislation establishes emergency provisions to assist drought-affected areas, as well as $300 million in emergency assistance.

“Even though the Willamette Valley was hit hard by snow over the weekend, Oregon is still experiencing a terrible drought, especially in Southern Oregon,” said Senator Merkley. “Snowpack in the Klamath Basin is only 20% of normal. We need to start preparing now because water shortages are nearly inevitable. This bill will provide emergency funding for important drought-relief projects that will help conserve water where we can and make sure the water we have gets to where it’s needed most.”

“Drought is already hitting Southern Oregon farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin, with Klamath County issuing a drought declaration two months earlier than last year,” said Senator Wyden. “This bill can provide sorely needed relief by making sure that agencies can send scarce water to the communities that need it the most.”

The bill, which is focused on the California drought that is shaping up to be the worst in the state’s history, includes key provisions authored by Merkley and Wyden to benefit drought-stricken regions of Oregon.

For the Klamath Basin watershed, which Oregon shares with California, it authorizes water management programs developed by Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers, in collaboration with tribes, fishing, and conservation interests as part of settling disputes over water rights in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreements. These water management programs will aim to help reduce water consumption by irrigators and otherwise develop and implement plans to manage the water shortage. It also proposes emergency funding that would be available for drought-relief efforts by the Department of the Interior in any areas of the state hit by this summer’s drought.

The bill also contains the following key provisions:

•$100 million in emergency funds for Department of the Interior projects to rapidly increase water supplies;

•$100 million in emergency assistance for farmers to fund water conservation measures that protect lands and sensitive watersheds;

•$25 million to the Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants program for water conservation projects and to protect and upgrade water systems. These grants of up to $1 million are to complete projects that boost the availability and quality of drinking water;

•$25 million for Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants that fund community projects to reduce harmful effects of the drought;

•$25 million in grant funding for public and nonprofit institutions to provide emergency assistance to low-income migrant and seasonal farmworkers who are directly harmed by the drought;

•$25 million in grants for private forest landowners to carry out conservation measures in response to drought and wildfire risks.