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Serving: West

Few in Klamath Basin want 2001-style confrontation

Tim Hearden WFP-tim-hearden-klamath-convoy6.JPG
Laura Schaad holds American flags that she was distributing to participants in a heavy equipment convoy in the Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon and Northern California in May 2020.
Irrigators mostly shun headgates protests backed by Ammon Bundy's People's Rights Oregon.

Most growers in the drought-plagued Klamath Basin don't appear to want the kind of water confrontations that brought national attention to the region 20 summers ago, a local newspaper is reporting.

With water for farms in the basin straddling the Oregon-California state line slashed to zero, a pair of irrigators affiliated with anti-government activist Ammon Bundy's organization, People's Rights Oregon, purchased a plot of land next to the Klamath Irrigation Project's main headgates and have set up a tent.

Members of the group say they plan to force open the gates to the "A" Canal, but the farmers who've had their water cut off have mostly stayed away, the Klamath Falls Herald and News reports.

“I think it says a lot that nobody showed up,” Tulelake, Calif., grower Scott Seus told the newspaper. “I think that people are cautious to grab hold of that.”

Related: Klamath Basin farmland used as waterfowl habitat

Protesters briefly forced open the headgates in 2001 as part of a "bucket brigade" protest after biological opinions on endangered suckers and threatened coho salmon led the Bureau of Reclamation to abruptly shut off irrigation water to about 1,200 farms.

'Bucket brigade' protests

About 18,000 participants from throughout the West attended a rally in Klamath Falls, Ore., that summer. The controversy prompted then-President George W. Bush's administration to boost deliveries to growers the following year, which environmentalists blamed for a subsequent die-off of about 70,000 salmon.

A National Academy of Sciences panel later found fault with the science used to justify cutting off irrigation for farms and water for the project’s two wildlife refuges.

Related: Klamath Basin water allocation cut to zero

After a water-sharing breakthrough proved elusive, water conflicts heated up again in the basin last year, when a more than 20-mile-long "Call to Unity" tractor rally was held to protest deeper planned cuts in water supplies than the Bureau of Reclamation had originally forecast.

Reclamation later rescinded the deeper cuts.

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