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Klamath farmers and ranchers plan 'convoy' to protest water limits

Members of the Klamath Irrigation Project are planning a water rally at the end of May to protest the limitations from a federal agreement with local tribes.

Posted: May 20, 2020 3:29 PM
Updated: May 21, 2020 9:56 AM

NOTE: A previous version of this article reported the date of the rally as May 19, which was incorrect. It is scheduled for May 29 at 10 a.m., which is now reflected in the article.


MERRILL, Ore. — Farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin are reportedly planning a rally to protest the water use limits enforced by the federal government to protect fish populations.

According to the Oregon Farm Bureau, members of the Klamath Irrigation Project are issuing a "Call to Unity" for supporters to join them at 10 a.m. on May 29 in Merrill. Organizers plan to lead a two-hour tractor convoy through the farmlands of the Klamath Project, down Main Street in Klamath Falls, ending in a farmer's field near Midland.

“We’re asking farm supporters far and wide to join our movement,” said Bob Gasser, a local businessman who is helping to organize the event. “It’s not going to be limited to just tractors and farm equipment. You can fire up your gravel truck, your logging truck, your pickup truck or even your car, and join us, too.”

The protest springs from a conflict that has been ongoing for years in the Klamath Basin, pitting irrigators trying to protect their livelihoods against local tribes striving to revive dwindling fish populations, with the federal government acting as an arbiter for the resulting court rulings. The conflict has been exacerbated by years of drought conditions.

March of this year saw yet another emergency drought declaration from Governor Brown for Klamath County as irrigators brace for another potential season without a sufficient supply of water.

Existing agreements between the tribes and federal agencies mandate a certain level of water maintained in Upper Klamath Lake, as well as water periodically sent downstream to "flush" the Klamath River. Typically, irrigators are left with whatever water is left over after those requirements are met — and this year, irrigators are sounding alarm that there will not be enough.

“Unfortunately, the fish populations have not increased, while the local farming population continues to shrink,” said Gasser. “We can fix this problem, but we need our political leaders to hear our voice.”

In the Farm Bureau's statement, the organization said that the 2020 irrigation season "is the most challenging water year" facing Klamath irrigators in at least the last two decades, threatening to bankrupt family farms.

At present, organizers of the convoy plan to end at the farmer's field in Midland, where tractor drivers will plant a symbolic white cross in the ground.

“This symbolic act will honor those who farmed before us, including the unfortunate families who no longer operate because of the increasingly uncertain water supply,” said Scott Seus, whose family farms near Tulelake, California. “For the remainder of this summer, those crosses will provide a grim reminder to passersby of the fate that awaits our rural communities if things don't change.”

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