Though a few weeks have passed since the Bureau of Reclamation announced it would not this season divert irrigation water to the Klamath Project, we are sure that the emotions of producers, farmworkers and their families are still raw.
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.
The decision means that 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.
Farmers are understandably on edge. A gut punch like that takes the wind out of everyone.
Many who we spoke to last week expressed equal parts of outrage and despair. Some hope to hang on another year, others just don’t see that as possible. But it is still early days and it will take time for everyone to fully process the news and objectively assess their situations.
What can be done?
Members of Congress and senators representing Oregon and California are working on a relief package. Irrigators could take the bureau to court, though prospects of success are slim. Protests are planned.
None of these things will produce immediate relief, or perhaps the satisfactory result that many would like. But, they are a start.
There are things that will only make the situation worse for irrigators, the community and misguided individuals who take inappropriate actions.
Peaceful protestors last week demanded that the Klamath Irrigation District defy the bureau and charge the canal. District officials declined, citing the legal ramifications of forcibly opening federal headgates.
Last week it came to light that someone had put the names and addresses of bureau employees on social media and had urged people to subject them to public intimidation for carrying out their duty. There are also concerns that less savory, outside elements will be recruited this summer to cause trouble during planned demonstrations.
Leaders of the Klamath Water Users Association, which represents irrigation districts served by the project, were quick to rebuke rogue elements.
“The personal health and safety of every individual and their families is paramount,” said Klamath Water Users Association Vice President Ry Kliewer. “I will protest, I will demonstrate, but I will be peaceful. And I will respect others the way I expect them to respect me and my family.”
The rage and desperation that farmers are feeling are understandable, but irrigators must put their faith in the political and legal systems. Violence and intimidation are not the answer.