Klamath drought

Storm clouds roll in as a wheel line waters a field along Highway 39 in Klamath County. County officials are seeking drought funding.

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — While recent snow and precipitation is “encouraging” to Klamath County commissioners, it hasn't kept them from asking for drought funding from the federal government prior to a drought declaration.

Klamath County Commissioners and the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors in early January asked Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office to configure a work plan for how to spend extra funding allocated to them in 2019, and calling for the creation of a water bank in 2020.

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

The county is asking for $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 Klamath Basin Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation, said a work plan regarding how funds are to be used is in process 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 KBAO office of Reclamation working with it’s regional office, as well as Office of Management and Budget and Reclamation’s Commissioner Brenda Burman to prioritize needs based on what is most critical.

“We were down around 50% (of normal) and so if it continues to come like they’re forecasting — the long-range forecast is for wetter than average,” Nettleton said.

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

The Jan. 7 letter 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. “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.”

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

“We’re working closely with our top leadership to try to get drought funding for the (Klamath) Project in case it’s needed,” Nettleton added. “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."

Boyd said a copy of the letter from commissioners to Reclamation would also be forwarded to Republican Congressman Greg Walden’s office in Washington, D.C.

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