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Despite the accumulation of recent snow in the mountains and the snow water equivalent hovering around average levels, the possibility for providing drought relief funds remains of high importance to Klamath County Commissioners, Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, the Klamath Water Users Association, and the Klamath Basin Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Klamath County Commissioners and Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors in early January asked Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office to configure a work plan for how to spend extra expenditures allocated to them in 2019, and calling for the creation of a water bank in 2020.

“We’re just asking for that $10,200,000 (for the Basin) because there’s nothing proposed today,” Boyd said, referring to Klamath County, in a phone interview with H&N. “We want to remain whole if we can.”

The Jan. 7 letter from Klamath County was signed by commissioners Derrick DeGroot, Boyd, and Kelley Minty Morris. Commissioners also asked for the work plan by Jan. 31.

“At this time, we do not know what the 2020 water year will bring, and there are uncertainties about what Klamath Project operation will be in effect,” the letter states. “These uncertainties are damaging to our communities. Similarly, regulatory approaches that look to the Klamath Project for water-based solutions to complex problems are damaging and can affect local communities and wildlife resources disproportionately. A water bank can help avoid or minimize serious conflict and strife in the Basin as we all continue to seek long-term stability through joint efforts such as our participation in the Coalition of the Willing.”

Coalition of the Willing is a group of stakeholders representing numerous organizations and entities aimed at working toward a long-term solution to water management in the Klamath Basin.

The group meets outside the Basin, generally in Medford or Redding, and is facilitated by Rich Wilson, based in Sacramento. Alan Mikkelsen, senior adviser to the Secretary of Interior, started the group in 2018 and continues to participate in an advisory role, led by the stakeholders. The group is set to reconvene in February or March, according to a previous H&N story.

Boyd said a copy of the letter from commissioners would also be forwarded to Republican Congressman Greg Walden’s office in Washington, D.C.

Surplus funding totals an estimated $140 million in funding on top of what was budgeted by President Donald Trump, covers all 17 Western states, according to Paul Simmons, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association.

While Boyd called recent snow storms “encouraging,” he said it’s anyone’s guess what the summer will look like for those utilizing water resources.

“It is supposed to be wetter than normal, which will help obviously,” Boyd said. “It’s better if we have snow. What we need is a slow runoff instead of a fast runoff.”

Jeff Nettleton, manager of the Klamath Basin Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation, said a work plan regarding how funds are to be used is in process and due for Congressional consideration in early February.

“We are trying to develop something for drought relief for this coming year, in case it’s needed,” Nettleton said. “We’re working with our leadership in D.C., on this … We are certainly ready, willing and able to provide that drought funding with whatever authority we have.”

Nettleton said requests for drought relief funding are common at this time of the year and involve the KBAO office of Reclamation working with it’s regional office, as well as Office of Management and Budget and Reclamation’s Commissioner Brenda Burman to prioritize needs based on what is most critical.

Nettleton also said recent snow storms and precipitation makes the situation going into irrigation season more hopeful.

“It had been very dry,” Nettleton said.

“We were down around 50 % (of normal) and so if it continues to come like they’re forecasting – the long-range forecast is for wetter than average – then that’s all good news if we can keep that coming. The best case scenario is that we have plenty of water and we don’t need drought funding.”

Planning for the worst – while hoping for the best – is key, however.

“We’re working closely with our top leadership to try to get drought funding for the (Klamath) Project in case it’s needed,” Nettleton added. “With regard to how that money can be spent, the water users have been working on some technical corrections to the language in the authority to spend that money, such that it might be able to be used differently than it was in 2019. But until that language is approved, we basically have the same authority that we had in 2018 when we helped them with drought funding and made it available through the drought relief agency – specifically the authority that we have right now that’s under the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act … to purchase water for fish and wildlife purposes like we did in 2018, where we bought water from the water users and made it available to Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.”