Klamath Project A Canal

Water flows from Upper Klamath Lake into the A Canal, part of the Klamath Project. Most farmers within the project will be allocated far less water than they received last year.

While recent precipitation is “encouraging” to Klamath County commissioners, it doesn't keep them from asking the federal government for drought funding in the event of dry weather in the future.

Klamath County, Ore., commissioners and Siskiyou County, Calif., supervisors this month asked the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office to configure a work plan for how to spend extra drought money allocated to them in 2019 and calling for the creation of a water bank in 2020.

That funding totals an estimated $140 million on top of what was budgeted by President Donald Trump and covers 17 Western states, according to Paul Simmons, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association.

The county is seeking $10.2 million.

“We’re just asking for that $10,200,000 (for the Basin) because there’s nothing proposed today,” said Donnie Boyd, a Klamath County commissioner. “It is supposed to be wetter than normal, which will help, obviously. It’s better if we have snow. What we need is a slow runoff instead of a fast runoff.”

Jeff Nettleton, manager of the area office of the Bureau of Reclamation, said a work plan regarding how the money will be used is in the works and due for congressional consideration in early February.

“We are trying to develop something for drought relief for this coming year, in case it’s needed,” Nettleton said. “We’re working with our leadership in D.C. on this. … We are certainly ready, willing and able to provide that drought funding with whatever authority we have.”

Nettleton said requests for drought relief funding are common at this time of the year and involve the area office of Reclamation working with its regional office, as well as the Office of Management and Budget and Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman to prioritize needs.

“We were down around 50% (of normal),” Nettleton said, adding that the forecast is for wetter than normal weather.

“The best case scenario is that we have plenty of water and we don’t need drought funding,” he said.

The Jan. 7 request to the bureau from Klamath County was signed by Commissioners Derrick DeGroot, Boyd and Kelley Minty Morris. Commissioners also asked for the work plan by Jan. 31.

“At this time, we do not know what the 2020 water year will bring, and there are uncertainties about what Klamath Project operation will be in effect,” the letter states. “These uncertainties are damaging to our communities. Similarly, regulatory approaches that look to the Klamath Project for water-based solutions to complex problems are damaging and can affect local communities and wildlife resources disproportionately. A water bank can help avoid or minimize serious conflict and strife in the Basin as we all continue to seek long-term stability through joint efforts such as our participation in the Coalition of the Willing.”

The Coalition of the Willing is a group of stakeholders representing organizations and entities aimed at working toward a long-term solution to water management in the Klamath Basin.

The group meets outside the Basin, generally in Medford or Redding, and is facilitated by Rich Wilson, based in Sacramento.

Alan Mikkelsen, senior adviser to the secretary of the Interior, started the group in 2018 and continues to participate in an advisory role, led by the stakeholders.

The group is set to reconvene in February or March.

“We’re working closely with our top leadership to try to get drought funding for the (Klamath) Project in case it’s needed,” Nettleton said. “With regard to how that money can be spent, the water users have been working on some technical corrections to the language in the authority to spend that money."

However, he said, "until that language is approved, we basically have the same authority that we had in 2018 when we helped them with drought funding and made it available through the drought relief agency."

Boyd said a copy of the letter from commissioners to Reclamation would also be forwarded to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

Recommended for you