Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Key provisions for water relief in the Klamath Basin are included in a major piece of legislation signed into law on Tuesday by President Donald Trump.
Trump signed off on the Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 Tuesday afternoon in the Oval Office, with Congressman Greg Walden, a Hood River Republican, among those attending the signing.
The legislation – Senate Bill 3021 – authorizes construction of Army Corps of Engineers water resource projects for flood risk management, hurricane and storm damage risk reduction, according to a White House news release, but also includes provisions impacting the Klamath Basin and California.
“It’s $10 million a year for the next four years as needed, and I think that’s a real important safety net as we work on longer term solutions in the Klamath Basin,” Walden told the Herald and News in a phone interview prior to his attendance at the White House signing.
“There are some other provisions in the language that provide for groundwater pumping, which increases flexibility and reliability and efficient use of water in the Basin,” Walden said. “It allows for temporary and voluntary land idling on Bureau of Reclamation property to make additional water available. And it also has language to facilitate the movement of non-Project water through the Bureau of Reclamation facilities to assist irrigators.
“There is the explicit disaster relief and money for pumping but then there are these other authorities that provide management flexibility to move water around the Basin as needed, to maximize its use for agriculture. So, it is more than just a disaster relief check,” Walden added. “It is flexibility for better water management when water is scarce, which seems to be about every year.”
Walden, who is up for re-election this November, said he worked extensively on the Energy and Commerce Committee on the bill to specifically help the Klamath Basin farmers with the disaster assistance.
Walden expressed some frustration with legal counsel employed by the Bureau of Reclamation in California who he said were “confused” about how to get the emergency drought relief to farmers.
“Certainly for the Klamath Basin, this finally gives the Bureau of Reclamation lawyers the certainty they’ve been confused about,” Walden said.
“This comes back and makes certain that money can be spent the way it was always intended, and resolves the conflict the lawyers at the Bureau of Reclamation had, and then going forward, it puts in place the language everybody agrees is needed.”
Laura Williams, a spokesman for the Klamath Basin Area Office, acknowledged that there was frustration felt by many, including for those in Reclamation.
Williams said the Omnibus bill initially did not include language that gave Reclamation the authority to distribute the funds.
“We were also frustrated this year … so I can understand his frustration,” Williams said, “but without the words in there clearly identifying the legal authority, we cannot do it.”
Walden said he plans to help make things as clear as possible for the Bureau of Reclamation in how to roll out the program funding.
“After the president signs this into law today, I intend to have a conversation with the Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Interior, to make sure that we bust through the uncertainty, the bureaucracy at the Bureau, and get this money out where it belongs,” Walden said. “There should be no question now, at the highest levels of the Bureau, that we’ve resolved their issues. And I expect them to not get bogged down again.”
Walden said he didn’t have a timeline necessarily for when money could be rolled out from the program.
“There should be no reason for delay, and I’m going to make certain everybody understands that at the bureau,” Walden said.
Walden emphasized a reoccurring drought is a main concern behind the funding for the Basin within the legislation.
“If we don’t get the snow pack again, that could be real problematic going forward,” Walden said. “Two years ago, I think we had nearly a record snow pack and then this year of course was not so much.
“It provides a safety net going forward, should we have another bad year or two or three.”
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Page Updated: Sunday October 28, 2018 01:25 AM Pacific
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