Two Klamath irrigators say they will breach the Klamath Project headgates in an attempt to get water flowing to more than 1,000 farmers who had the taps turned off last month by the Bureau of Reclamation.
It is a foolhardy and futile plan, made only worse by the prospects that activist Ammon Bundy and other outside actors will join the effort and force a standoff with the federal government.
The bureau shut down the Project’s A Canal for the entire irrigation season May 12 in response to worsening drought conditions — allotting zero surface water from Upper Klamath Lake for thirsty crops and livestock.
It is the first time in more than a century the A Canal will deliver no water to irrigators, using that water instead to serve protected species.
As a result, more than 150,000 acres of farmland will receive zero irrigation water this season. The impact will be devastating, not only to the farm community but to the region’s economy at-large.
It may seem that desperate measures are more satisfying than time-consuming political and legal resolutions. But the interests of all farmers in the basin could be undermined by the illegal actions of a handful of irrigators, particularly if they are aided by outside agitators.
Ammon Bundy is the son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The Bundy family’s dispute with the Bureau of Land Management led to a tense standoff at their ranch between federal agents and armed militia members in 2014.
In 2016, the group came to Oregon’s Harney County to support two local ranchers convicted of setting fire to federal land. When they failed to whip the ranchers and the townspeople into a revolutionary frenzy, a splinter group led by Bundy took over facilities at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge as a larger protest against federal control of western lands.
Their stated goal of holding their position until the federal government returned the land to private ownership was at best a delusional hope, and did nothing to resolve the real issues that still exist between the government and Western agriculture and timber interests.
While Bundy himself has escaped conviction on a host of charges over the years, those around him haven’t been so lucky. One of his followers, LaVoy Finnicum, was shot and killed as police tried to arrest him in connection with the wildlife refuge standoff.
These tactics have yet to lead to their supporters’ stated goals, and they won’t resolve the issues involving irrigators, the tribes, endangered species and the Bureau of Reclamation.
Any breach of the headgates would be short lived and wouldn’t bring relief to drought-stricken farmers. And no matter how popular such a thing would seem locally, it would reflect dimly on the farmers’ case in the places where the political and legal decisions are made.
We cannot condone extralegal efforts to return water to Klamath irrigators.
Lawlessness is lawlessness, no matter who perpetrates it or how firmly they believe in their justifications.