Klamath Falls, OR — Farmers Grant Knoll and Dan Nielsen are ready to turn the water back on at an Oregon canal after the federal government shut it off, in the midst of extreme drought, in order to “protect” two species of fish listed in the Endangered Species Act.
The farmers purchased land last month next to the headgate of a canal that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) shut-off preventing farmers from their irrigation water supply from Upper Klamath Lake, water that farmers in southern Oregon and northern California rely on. Knoll and Nielsen have held regular protests with farmers being harmed by the decision.
“It’s ours, and the federal government actually just stole it. No due process of law, no compensation…. If they don’t budge, I think we’re just going to end up taking it. It’s the only way the government gets it,” Nielsen said in an interview this week with RT.
Knoll said: “I’m planning on getting DC’s attention. We’re going to turn on the water and have a standoff.”
The USBR released a statement early last month stating its decision to shut-off the water supply was in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries.
“This year’s drought conditions are bringing unprecedented hardship to the communities of the Klamath Basin,” Camille Touton, USBR deputy commissioner, stated. “We have closely monitored the water conditions in the area and the unfortunate deterioration of the forecast hydrology. This has resulted in the historic consequence of not being able to operate a majority of the Klamath Project this year. Reclamation is dedicated to working with our water users, tribes, and partners to get through this difficult year and developing long-term solutions for the basin.”
The species of suckerfish that the ISBR says it is protecting with the move hold spiritual significance to the Native American tribes in Klamath Falls.
“We do want people to hear our voice and realize that our fish are important, and that we’re important,” Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes, told the Sacramento Bee last month. “And so we want to make that statement. And, you know, we certainly don’t relish or revel in the negative impact on everybody else in the basin. But I will say there’s a certain amount of bitterness and anger, you know, because of our tragic history, and people continue to marginalize us and our fish and treat us like we’re inferior people.”
However, there are questions on whether shutting off the water has any impact on the fish. Ben DuVal, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, called the decision a “failed experiment that has produced no benefit for the [fish]” when he spoke to RT.
“Farmers like myself are looking at basically zero irrigation water this year,” DuVal said as he credited the protesters for bringing “awareness to this issue.” He, however, said he did not want protesters to engage in a standoff as it will “reflect poorly on our community.”
DuVal moderated his views on the protesters as previously, speaking to the Sacramento Bee, he called Knoll and Nielsen “idiots” who “have no business being here.” He added: “We don’t want them to take this crisis in our community and use it as a soapbox to push their agenda. And that’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking for a stage.”
In 2001, the federal government shut-off a canal in the region leading to a standoff then of over 100 farmers, which included Knoll and Nielsen, as they forced open the canal several times and held what they called “bucket brigades.” That lasted until the feds sent U.S. marshals to end it.
This expected standoff could include more than just the farmers being affected as Ammon Bundy, a liberty activist from Idaho, said he plans to join the protesters along with individuals involved in the People’s Rights organization he helped start over the last year in response to the authoritarian measures taken under COVID-19.
Bundy has had experience with standoffs with the federal government which threatened the property rights of ranchers in 2014 and 2016. Like this current situation in Klamath Falls, the federal government used the Endangered Species Act with the ranchers as it claimed to “protect” the desert tortoise.
Beyond the livelihoods of the farmers and ranchers, the federal government’s actions affect the local businesses as well as the food supply, like beef in the case of the ranchers, of all Americans. Some of the food grown by farmers in the Klamath Falls region includes alfalfa, beets, garlic, horseradish, onions, potatoes and wheat.
“The federal government’s not following the law,” Knoll said. “They’re breaking the law continuously. And so, we’re at a point where, you know, they’re abusing their power. So how do you stop the federal government when they’re abusing their power?”
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