President Bush formed a Cabinet-level advisory group Friday to figure out how to balance water needs in the Northwest's drought-stricken Klamath River Basin.

He said the "prolonged drought and complex federal and state legal issues have made for difficult times" in the region extending from Oregon to California.

The situation, Bush said, demanded immediate creation of a Klamath River Basin Federal Working Group, to be chaired by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, which is to study the problem over the next 18 months.

The group will "address concerns raised by farmers, ranchers, fishermen, tribes and others affected by these difficult conditions," Bush said.

Bush said the group will provide advice on "immediate and long-term actions necessary" to ensure plentiful and clean water supplies and take a look at "other complex economic and natural resource issues" in the river basin.

Federal agencies expect to deliver water this year to Klamath Basin farmers in contrast to last year's cutbacks on irrigation canals, which saved water for threatened and endangered fish but led to a rift between farmers and the government.

Others serving with Norton will be Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and James Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality.