SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Senate approved $20 million in disaster aid Tuesday evening for Klamath Basin farmers as part of an emergency bill to ease the economic impact of a relentless drought.
The funding will come as direct economic assistance to more than 1,000 farmers from the region that straddles the Oregon-California border. Most of their irrigation water has been cut off to help threatened and endangered fish.
"These funds are urgently needed by farmers who were not able to plant this season because of endangered species concerns brought on by the drought," U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. said in a written statement.
Last April, the Bureau of Reclamation, which controls the Klamath Project, decided to stop providing water to 90 percent of the land in the Klamath Project in favor of endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.
Since the water was shut off, Klamath Basin farms with no other source of water have been forced to sell off cattle, let pastures and hay fields go brown and give up annual plantings of potatoes, grain and other crops.
There are, however, some farms using water received through wells and other sources of water from the river and its tributaries.
A state assemblywoman recently has asked President Bush to issue an executive order curbing overallocation of water from the Klamath River.
Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, D-Duncans Mills, asked Bush to call for the cooperation of federal agencies, tribes, state and local governments
Strom-Martin also said the federal Endangered Species Act is not to blame for the crisis, and asked Bush to offer financial help to the devastated farmers, including buying farms with water rights from those who are willing to sell. She also said a plan needs to be created to allow farms and fisheries to function without major economic loss.
An Oregon State University study estimated that farmers could suffer as much as $157 million in lost sales, said Ron Hathaway, chairman of the county Extension Service. But the drought's total economic cost to the region is expected to be about $250 million, said M. Steven West, chairman of the Klamath County Board of Commissioners.