Dusty field, drought

A tractor kicks up dust in a field along Highway 140 on June 9.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service, and the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency have funding available for landowners and producers in the Klamath Basin as part of local conservation and drought relief programs.

The NRCS funding is part of $41.8 million in conservation assistance from the federal government meant to help agricultural producers in Arizona, California, Colorado and Oregon overcome the immediate impacts of drought. A portion of the funds are specifically earmarked for the Klamath Basin.

The KPDRA funding is specifically for landowners or producers who have not received a drop of water since Nov. 1, 2020, according to Mark Johnson, deputy director of the Klamath Water Users Association. Federally-owned land and land irrigated using only groundwater are not eligible for the program. To learn more about eligibility for the KPDRA’s 2021 Assistance Program, the agency has provided more detailed information on its website.

The KPDRA funding consists of $15 million from the Bureau of Reclamation. The amount of funding applicants will receive is dependent on their acreage, according to Marc Staunton, chairman of the KPDRA.

”This is probably the highest we’ve ever had in a demand management program,” Staunton said. “I think we’d be expecting anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 acres worth of applications. In 2020 — which was the largest program we’ve ever implemented in scope — we paid roughly 30,000 acres of dry ground. (This year) we are anticipating significantly more than 30,000 acres.”

Staunton pointed out the “grim reality” that $15 million is going to fall short of what will actually be necessary to help landowners survive the drought crisis in the basin.

”A lot of people won’t make it through something like this,” Staunton said. “But with a little bit of assistance people can find a way to fight through it and stay together.”

NRCS Oregon received about $7.5 million of the funding, $1.8 million of which has been set aside for the Klamath Basin. Those funds can be used in the Basin across the state line in California, according to Josh Elke, district conservationist for the NRCS in Klamath County.

The project is called the “environmental quality incentive program — conservation incentive contracts.” And while the contracts are technically a pilot program only available in select states this year. The NRCS will expand the program nationwide in 2022, the USDA said in a news release last month.

Elke said the county has received about four times the funding it usually gets from the USDA to help fund conservation projects for local farmers and ranchers.

The program is competitive, Elke said, and applications are chosen based on a ranking process. But Elke and a group of soil scientists, conservationists and engineers are there to make sure local conservation projects receive technical and financial assistance.

In addition to the environmental resource concerns that come with drought conditions, the EQIP-CIC program covers multiple land uses, including cropland, non-industrial private forest, pasture and rangeland.

The best way to get started, Elke said, is to go to the local USDA Farm Service Agency, located at 1945 Main Street, to determine eligibility and to make sure paperwork is in order.

Elke has worked for the government for more than a decade, and his educational background is in soil science.

“It’s a community thing to me, and knowing that you are helping out your neighbors,” Elke said. “It’s been pretty busy ... it’s nice to see Klamath County getting the attention and the financial assistance it needs to help the community out.”

Other drought-related concerns

Staunton added that the extreme drought isn’t the only issue faced by local landowners. Concerns such as people’s wells going dry, and a lack of water and feed for livestock owners are also looming large as the season progresses.

”That is like Third World problems ... when you have no water and your animals are dying,” Staunton said.

He pointed out that the current drought situation will require a significant amount of money to set straight, and the reality of the situation is that there is a significant local cost of not having enough water for the Klamath Project.

”Our job is just to try to find as many resources as possible to try to help mitigate this situation,” Staunton said.

The KPDRA will host two workshops in July to allow applicants to come in person to get help filling out paperwork. The first workshop will be held on Wednesday, July 21 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Klamath Water Users Association, 2312 S 6th Street in Klamath Falls. The second workshop will be held on Thursday, July 22 from 8 a.m. until noon at the Walt Wilson Hall, 365 Klamath Falls-Malin Highway in Merrill.

”If they need any assistance filling out the paperwork or have any questions or concerns, the workshops are held to address those,” Johnson added about the workshops.

The deadline to apply for USDA funding is Monday, July 12, and the deadline to apply for KPDRA assistance is Friday, July 30.

An online application for the KPDRA program can be found on the agency’s website here. An application for the NRCS program and a list of eligible conservation practices and enhancements can be found on the NRCS website.

— Reporter Joe Siess can be reached at (541)-885-4481 or jsiess@heraldandnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @jomsiess