The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday that it will invest $1.2 million into a “new science initiative” for the Klamath Project.
This announcement comes after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman held a historic joint visit to the Klamath Basin earlier this month.
Farmers and ranchers urged federal officials to overhaul the science that informs how much water the Klamath Project receives each year, arguing that it does not protect endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and salmon species in the Lower Klamath River, while also harming the local agricultural economy.
“We heard firsthand from the community on the best path forward to address longstanding water challenges,” Commissioner Burman said in a news release, which called the new investment a “fresh approach.”
The scientific initiatives include:
• A new naturalized flow study of the Lower Klamath, which would build on studies in the early 2000s that estimated how much water would have naturally flowed down the Klamath River before the Project was developed.
• Updating the study of water levels in Upper Klamath Lake done by the U.S. Geological Survey and Fish and Wildlife Service, which serve to assess the habitat quality of endangered suckers.
• Evaluating flow and habitat relationships in the Klamath River below Iron Gate Dam in order to support the needs of juvenile Chinook and endangered coho salmon.
• Building upon a model that estimates the survival of juvenile salmon as they migrate from the river to the sea.
• Improving data collected about salmon diseases throughout the basin.
“This new funding will support science-based initiatives that will help get us closer to finding a solution for the Basin that benefits the farmers, fish and tribes,” Congressman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in the release. “I look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Bernhardt and the Trump Administration on finding a solution to the decades old Klamath Basin water crisis, and I applaud their steadfast commitment to this issue.”
In a separate release, Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) applauded Reclamation’s decision, saying that the Secretary and Commissioner’s visit allowed them to see “just how harmful the bad science has been to irrigators.”
Klamath Water Users Association also praised the new initiatives, especially the naturalized flow study. A KWUA release said they believe a more robust study will confirm that the Project doesn’t remove as much water from the Klamath as originally thought, and that the allocation for downriver flows is “artificially high.”
The announcement doesn’t change the current biological opinion that dictates how much water can flow from Upper Klamath Lake into the Klamath Project and down the Klamath River; it directs resources into studies that could impact it in the near future.
“We won’t change everything overnight, but incremental progress starting immediately is what we’re looking for,” said Paul Simmons, KWUA executive director.
But irrigators did see rapid change in how quickly these initiatives materialized. Bob Gasser, owner of Basin Fertilizer & Chemical Company and one of the organizers of May’s “Shut Down and Fed Up Rally,” applauded Secretary Bernhardt’s swift response to the ag community’s efforts to bring attention to the water crisis. Exactly two months after the rally, Reclamation committed to the “new science” irrigators called for.
“This is a good day,” Gasser said. “Things don’t happen this quick.”