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Infrastructure law creates ‘once-in-a-generation’ spending on Western water projects

A dry water transport canal in Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.
Erik Neumann/JPR
A dry water transport canal in Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.

President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that was signed into law this week will fund lots of projects in Oregon. Those include historic investments in Western water infrastructure.

Along with funding for broadband internet, bridge repairs and public transit, $8.3 billion dollars from the infrastructure bill will be spent over the next decade on improving aging water infrastructure like projects in the Klamath Basin.

“I’ve been doing this sort of work now for over 30 years and I would have to say this is the largest federal investment I’ve seen in my lifetime and my career that’s focused on Western water,” says Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Falls-based Family Farm Alliance, a group that advocates for water for farmers and ranchers in 17 Western states.

Keppen says the money will pay to update water storage projects, improve canal systems and fund water recycling efforts, among other things. He says federal agencies have 60 days to come up with plans on how to spend the money.

“We need to make sure that that money is going to projects that are on the ground quickly,” he says. “Because there’s going to be a lot of political scrutiny on how this money is spent.”

Money will be distributed through the federal Bureau of Reclamation which manages infrastructure like the Shasta dam in California and the canals and water storage systems known as the Klamath Project in the Klamath Basin. Other Reclamation sites in Oregon are located on the Rogue River in southern Oregon, Deschutes River in central Oregon and tributaries of the Snake River in eastern Oregon.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.