Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) -- The federal government has come up with an extra $2 million in drought aid for the upper Klamath Basin.

The U.S. Department of Interior announced Thursday the money will pay for pumping water from wells and paying farmers to let their lands go fallow.

That will reduce demand for surface water in short supply on the federal irrigation project serving the upper Klamath Basin.

The money brings to $7.25 million in federal funding for the Klamath Water & Power Authority to pump wells and pay farmers to idle their land.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., praised Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the farmers on the irrigation project for their work to approve the additional funding.

"While there's no substitute for the water to keep farming, this money will go a long way to help water users make it through the season without losing their farms and livelihoods," Merkley said.

Greg Addington of the Klamath Water Users Association said there is still no water or drought aid for about one third of the 200,000 acres on the project.

"We're grateful," he said. "We'll keep pushing," for more financial aid.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has said only about a third of the water needed to irrigate the 1,300 farms on the Klamath Reclamation Project is available this year, due to drought and the needs of fish protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Irrigation water normally starts flowing April 1, but this year is not expected until the second half of May.

Similar cutbacks were required in 2001, triggering bitter protests by farmers hoping to get Congress to change the Endangered Species Act. Recognizing changing the law is unlikely, many have turned instead to finding land with wells to rent outside the project.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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