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Stimulus may help Klamath irrigation Locals have been lobbying two federal departments

by Ty Beaver, Herald and News 2/11/09

The Klamath Basin could get funding for irrigation infrastructure improvements and other irrigation projects as part of the economic stimulus package being revised in Congress.

Versions of the stimulus bill passed by the House and Senate include varying amounts — between $ 500 million and $1.4 billion — for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The Senate voted 61-37 Tuesday to approve the stimulus package, triggering an intense round of late-night bargaining to hammer out a compromise.

Democratic leaders have pledged to have legislation on Obama’s desk by mid-month.

Aging infrastructure

It’s unclear how much the Bureau could receive in a final economic stimulus bill, but part of the money could go to its Klamath Reclamation Project, one of the three oldest projects in the country.

“There’s always aging infrastructure, there’s no question of that,” said Dave Solem, director of Klamath Irrigation District.

The Bureau operates a number of irrigation projects across the West. Dan Keppen, executive director of Family Farm Alliance, said his organization began lobbying the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Interior last April to include Bureau infrastructure funding in economic stimulus packages.

The Basin is not explicitly named in any of Family Farm Alliance’s requests, but Keppen said a portion calls for rehabilitating and improving aging infrastructure operated by the Bureau.

As one of the nation’s oldest government-owned irrigation projects, the Basin would fall under that umbrella.

“In the stimulus, we have the opportunity to take care of some fixes,” Keppen said.

Bureau programs initiated in the Klamath Basin also could see boosts in funding. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, and Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, or AWEP, are programs developed in the region to provide matching federal dollars for improvement and conservation projects by irrigators or irrigator districts.

Keppen and Solem said there are hurdles.

Getting irrigation projects started can take a long time because of permitting and environmental study requirements. Keppen said that is why his organization also is pushing to streamline the process. Solem said his organization would work with local Bureau officials.

“There are a few projects, but the Bureau is going to have to prioritize,” he said.

Kevin Moore, spokesman for the Bureau’s Klamath Falls office declined to comment, saying a list of possible projects is still under review.

“Any speculation about how any money would be utilized locally would be premature until we receive more details,” he wrote in an e-mail.

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