Feds pledge $15 million toward drought relief for Klamath Basin growers

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Farmers in the Klamath Basin will have another opportunity to seek aid funding to offset their losses from the current water shortage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that it would invest $15 million into a program that will assist growers in the drought-stricken region.

USDA referenced the closure of the Klamath Project’s “A” Canal, which means that no water from Upper Klamath Lake will go toward irrigation this year. The new block grant allows for payments to producers who agree to reduce their irrigation demand. That water then can be used for other means.

“As ongoing drought conditions in the West continue to worsen, we need to find ways to do things differently in order to provide help and assistance to producers, Tribes, and communities,” said Gloria Montaño Greene, USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. “We recognize that current USDA programs and services are not enough to meet this historic challenge, and this pilot will help us find more tools to add to our toolbox.”

RELATED: Historic drought leaves Klamath Basin domestic wells high and dry

The block grant will go to the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency for distribution to producers. According to KPDRA president Marc Staunton, the organization is still working out the details of how the funds will be deployed. It may be distributed out to producers on all eligible land within the Klamath Project on a per-acre basis, though some land does not qualify.

“Unfortunately, the same as for our ‘non-irrigation’ program, land will not be eligible in districts that the Bureau of Reclamation believes is not in compliance with the 2021 Project operations plan,’ said Mr. Staunton.

The Klamath Water Users Association, which represents the interests of Klamath Project growers, said that this new grant replaces a $10 million program announced in April. There is also a $15 million Bureau of Reclamation program in effect, but KWUA says that together the two programs are “still not nearly enough.”

“Our most important priority is to have water for irrigation so producers can produce,” said KWUA executive director Paul Simmons. “But we have to play the cards we were dealt this year and do the best we can for producers who are under duress.”

Governor Kate Brown also released a statement on Monday applauding the program:

“The Klamath Basin is facing historic challenges from drought conditions that are creating hardships for the people, farms, ranches, communities, and ecosystems of the region. Today’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a great step to help agricultural producers in the region. I appreciate the partnership of Secretary Vilsack and the Biden-Harris administration in helping to relieve hardship in the region, both through this new pilot and ongoing programs.

“What is clear is that, because of the ongoing impacts of climate change on the region, the Klamath Basin will continue to face too many demands for a limited and decreasing supply of water. We must continue to work towards a long-term drought solution for the region, and today’s relief efforts are a down payment toward that goal.”

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