Congressman Bentz Questions Interior Secretary Haaland on Drought Relief for Klamath Basin
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, during a House Natural Resources Committee Budget Oversight Hearing on the Department of Interior's Spending Priorities and the President's Fiscal Year Budget 2022 Proposal, Congressman Cliff Bentz (R-Ont.) questioned Department of the Interior Secretary Debra Haaland on the Agency's efforts to direct relief to the Klamath Basin where extreme and exceptional drought conditions have caused the Klamath Project to make an unprecedented zero water allocation for irrigators this water year.
"In April, the Administration announced the creation of an interagency working group to address the worsening drought conditions in the West and support farmers, tribes, and communities impacted by water shortages," said Bentz. "Right now, things are incredibly grim in the Klamath Basin. With silence from the Administration comes increased frustration, which we absolutely want to avoid given the incredible challenges faced by all groups in the Basin. Has the working group been formed and has it met? If not, when can we anticipate that group will visit the Klamath Basin?"
"Congressman, thank you so much for the question and thank you again for your accessibility to my staff," said Haaland. "Your input has been extremely beneficial and we appreciate that very much. I know how important this issue is to you. We want to make sure that we will be in touch with you as this working group moves forward. As soon as we are able to meet, we will make sure that we reach out to you."
Bentz pressed the Haaland for a higher level of involvement from the Biden Administration on the Klamath Basin issue and asked about additional efforts to find financial aid for all those in the Klamath Basin - referencing a proposal Bentz, along with Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) previously announced for $57 million in aid and relief for farmers and ranchers, wildlife refuges, families, water districts, fishermen, and tribes in the Klamath Basin.
Secretary Haaland responded by referencing actions already taken by the Department of Interior, including "[The Bureau of] Reclamation committed $15 million in immediate aid through the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency, and then there was another $3 million in technical assistance to tribes for ecosystem activities. I know the community is asking for more help, and we are looking to do more and leverage additional resources, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
Many farmers in the region began tilling ground, applying fertilizers, and planting crops earlier in the year before the zero-water allocation. Without water, those crops will now die, causing huge economic impacts to the region. Bentz has consistently called for calm in the region and for the community to come together to find long term solutions to the question of water allocation in the Basin.
In 2021, at least 15 Oregon counties have received drought declarations, including 12 in Oregon's Second Congressional District, represented by Congressman Bentz. These counties include Baker, Crook, Deschutes, Harney, Jackson, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake, Malheur, Sherman, Wallowa, and Wheeler.
Click HEREto watch theentirety of Wednesday's House Natural Resources Committee Budget Oversight Hearing on the Department of Interior's Spending Priorities and the President's Fiscal Year Budget 2022 Proposal. Congressman Bentz's exchange with Secretary Haaland occurs at the end of the hearing. Click HERE for photos from the hearing.