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Senators Offer Klamath Basin Aid Package, Warn it is Longshot

by Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
The Oregonian - October 3, 2001

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Senators from Oregon and California are asking Congress for $126 million in aid for the Klamath Basin as it struggles with balancing water between agriculture and endangered species.

They characterized the package as a first step toward solving longterm problems that left farmers dry this year so endangered fish could live, and warned that appropriation of the money is a longshot in a Congress confronting the recent terrorist attacks.

"I don't think anybody is going to call this one a walk in the park," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Wyden and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., sent letters Wednesday to members of Congress requesting $110 million be appropriated for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2002 budget to provide direct aid to farmers and ranchers to make up for an estimated $200 million in losses from this year's drought. They asked for another $16 million from various other sources.

The money comes on top of $20 million being handed out now.

"What we are trying to do is make sure the farmers and ranchers are still there next year," said Smith chief of staff Chris Matthews. "This doesn't do much for the long term."

The request followed appeals from Wyden, Smith and California Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein seeking $16 million in new funding for a variety of projects to improve the basin's ability to withstand future droughts.

Projects include wells to boost water flows into Upper Klamath Lake, home to endangered suckers, and buying up water rights in California to increase flows into the Klamath River, home to threatened coho salmon. Other projects would restore wetlands habitats that help fish and wildlife and improve water quality.

"This is a first step in a longer process," said Wyden press secretary Lisa Raasch.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department signed a contract for the National Academy of Sciences to review the studies by federal biologists that led to this year's decision under the Endangered Species Act to reduce the irrigation water sent to farmers on the Klamath Project. The contract still has to be signed by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Faced with severe drought and increased water demands for the suckers and salmon, the Bureau of Reclamation severely cut back irrigation for farmers and ranchers on 220,000 acres straddling the Oregon-California border.

The senators also asked that $21 million in current funding be maintained. That money includes $5 million to install screens on the Klamath Project's A canal to keep out endangered suckers, $3.5 million to study improved fish passage and $17.8 million for U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operations and maintenance.

The package does not include any money for proposals from environmentalists and some farmers to reduce water demand by buying up farmland and water rights within the Klamath Project or the Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge.

On the Net:
Klamath Project:
Endangered Species Act:
Interior Department:
Oregon Natural Resources Council:
Klamath Basin Irrigators:

Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
Senators Offer Klamath Basin Aid Package, Warn it is Longshot
The Oregonian, October 3, 2001

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