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Klamath Basin House Members Propose Aid Package For Drought Victims

California Rep. Doug LaMalfa and Oregon Rep. Cliff Bentz were among 147 Republicans who voted not to certify one or more states' electoral votes after the 2020 election. The decision prompted dozens of corporations to end or pause campaign contributions.
California Rep. Doug LaMalfa and Oregon Rep. Cliff Bentz.

Two members of Congress from Southern Oregon and Northern California are teaming up on a proposed aid package to help to assist farmers, wildlife refuges, tribes and fisherman affected by the increasing drought in the Klamath Basin on the Oregon-California border.

The federal aid package was proposed on Tuesday by Representatives Cliff Bentz (R-OR) and Doug LaMalfa (R-CA). Most of the $57 million proposal would be aimed at helping farmers weather the crisis through USDA programs.

“Everybody is being harmed. There are no winners in this situation. Fish populations are not recovering, farms are not receiving enough water, and refuges are going dry,” Bentz said in testimony on the House floor. “In the short run perhaps we can get through this year with the government’s help but in the long run the Klamath community will have to decide what kind of future they want.”

In mid-May Klamath Basin water managers with the Bureau of Reclamation announced that for the first time in the water project’s 114-year history, no water would be released from Upper Klamath Lake into the Klamath Project's main canal for agricultural irrigation in Oregon and California because of drought conditions.

The House members’ proposal has not yet been drafted into legislation, according to Bentz’s staff. But it includes:

· $40 million in assistance for farmers through USDA programs
· $2.5 million for wildlife refuges, including a duck rescue hospital in areas affected by avian botulism outbreaks
· $2.5 million to assist families whose wells have gone dry in the basin
· $4 million to repair irrigation canals damaged by the drought
· $3 million for aid to commercial fisherman impacted on the lower Klamath River
· $5 million for food aid to tribal governments

“Some 60 to 70 million people across the western United States will be suffering this year from the cost and the loss of severe drought,” Bentz said. “The Klamath Basin in Oregon and California unfortunately is the poster child for this disaster.”

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.