Drought conditions were declared in the Klamath Basin in March, after Bureau of Reclamation officials noted below average precipitation and rainfall in the region.Irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project got less than 50 percent of their usual water allocations from Upper Klamath Lake because of low lake levels and inflows to the lake. The irrigation season started about a month late and is expected to end a few weeks early.
Previous allocationThe Klamath Basin in April received $2 million from the U.S. Department of the Interior to fund water bank and land idling programs. Irrigators also qualif ied for disaster assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture following a natural disaster declaration in May.
Greg Addington, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association, said the additional financial assistance is appreciated, but it won’t necessarily allow irrigators to farm and ranch as they’d like.“It’s a poor substitute for the water,” he said. “We can be way more productive with water.”
Don Gentry, vice-chairman of the Klamath Tribes, said the $1.6 million allotted to them would help the Tribes examine what sort of flexibility they have in their water supply if steps are taken to restore the area’s fish and wildlife habitats.“It’s mostly for scientific research, looking at trying to improve watershed management,” he said.
U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., worked together to include the water funding measure in the bill.Initially, there had been confusion as to whether the $10 million would be allocated to the Klamath Basin, or if it would be up for grabs among drought stricken regions in the western United States.
But Courtney Crowell, press secretary for Merkley, said the entire sum would be designated for landholders and irrigation districts in the Klamath Basin.“It’s all coming to Klamath, which is great news,” Crowell said.
DisagreementsNot everyone thinks the money will have a noticeable impact.
The funding is geared toward landholders on Klamath Reclamation Project land.Sprague River area irrigator Matt Walter, who has land off the project, said he and other off-Project users are unlikely to see much of the funding.
“There won’t be a lot of impact here,” he said.Tom Mallams, president of the Klamath Off-Project Water Users Association, said he felt current water conditions did not even merit the government diverting funds to the region.
“I do support the concept that if someone gets water denied to them, they should be compensated,” he said.But he added that drought aid “makes farmers more and more dependent” on federal assistance.
“It’s a horrible way to go, it’s not a solution,” he said. “The water should not have been shut off in the first place.”