Wyden, Merkley Introduce Bill to Help Communities in the Klamath Basin Respond to Severe Drought

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they have introduced legislation that would support farmers and ranchers responding to severe drought and restoring fish and wildlife habitat in the Klamath Basin.

“The farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin have weathered historic drought with significant federal investment and assistance, but the region is in desperate need of additional support, ” said Wyden. “While I’m gratified Senator Merkley and I brought resources for species recovery and habitat restoration to the region in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, it’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure the long-term viability of the Klamath Basin natural resources and economy. Our bill helps to provides long-term support for the community to ensure that farmers can make ends meet during drought years while also protecting and restoring endangered fish habitat for generations to come.”

“After years of consecutive drought, farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin need a boost,” said Senator Merkley, who serves as the Chairman of the Interior Subcommittee that funds the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  “As efforts continue to implement the historic dam removal efforts in the Klamath Basin, our bill is critical to fulfilling commitments made to the farmers and ranchers on the Klamath Project as part of the historic Klamath Basin Power and Facilities Agreement.”   

The ongoing drought conditions have been devastating for communities in the Klamath Basin, with the Bureau of Reclamation unable to meet the needs of communities in the basin. In 2021 — the worst year on record in 100 years — the Bureau of Reclamation announced for the first time no water would be made available to the farmers. That same year, canals in the area went without water, causing hundreds of households to be without water for drinking, cooking, sanitation, or other basic needs. Drought has also hurt severely impacted Tribes in the basin, imperiling culturally important fish and wildlife.

Wyden and Merkley’s Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement Support Act would help address the needs of these communities as they work together to realize long-term solutions by:

  • Authorizing Interior to enter into an agreement with Bonneville Power Administration to reduce the costs of power for the Irrigation Districts;
  • Authorizing Interior to complete physical projects that reduce the risk of fish entrapment, reduce or avoid impacts to fish and habitat caused by diversion of water for irrigation, and projects that restore fish habitat, including those held in trust by the Tribes;
  • Helping pay for the costs of operating an irrigation pumping plan in Tulelake;
  • Helping pay for the costs of replacing the C Irrigation Canal; and
  • Authorizing Interior to take ownership of Keno Dam from Pacificorp, once Pacificorp removes the lower four Klamath Dams.

“Senators Wyden and Merkley have been consistent champions for delivering much-needed federal resources to Klamath County,” said Klamath County Commissioner Kelley Minty. “I am grateful they are continuing to fight for the Basin’s critical needs by taking the additional step of introducing this new legislation that provides a lifeline to local farmers and ranchers devastated by drought as well as resources to protect and recover fish and habitat that are so important to our tribal communities.”

Bill text is here.

Additionally, as part of their efforts to support the region meet its water challenges, Wyden and Merkley successfully fought for $162 million in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for habitat restoration efforts in the Klamath Basin.

A web version of this release is here.