Protesters Call on Irrigation District to Open Klamath Canal, Challenge Reclamation | Business
A group of about 30 Klamath County residents affiliated with People’s Rights Oregon Zone 6 gathered at Klamath Irrigation District headquarters on Thursday to protest the Bureau of Reclamation’s announcement that no water in the lake Upper Klamath would not be available to irrigators at the Klamath project this summer.
Protesters also engaged district leaders on what could be done to respond to the situation, asking them to challenge the office and open the main gates of Channel A and telling them they would support them if they did. .
Due to historically low inputs in upper Klamath Lake, reclamation stated that biological opinions regarding endangered fish habitats in upper Klamath Lake and endangered Klamath River coho salmon do not can be satisfied, leaving the irrigators of the Klamath project without water.
People’s Rights Oregon is the national part of the People’s Rights Network, an organization created in part by Ammon Bundy, who led the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. BJ Soper, who heads most of the People’s Rights Oregon, was also involved in the takeover and recently made a YouTube video drawing attention to the struggles facing the Klamath irrigators.
Bundy spoke at a dinner in Klamath Falls called “Come Defend Freedom” last summer. The People’s Rights Oregon 6 website describes the group as a place “where like-minded people come together to find fellowship and friendship as we build a thriving united community.”
“This is not a manifestation of anger,” said Dawnn Brown, regional assistant for People’s Rights Oregon 6, which includes Klamath and Lake counties. “We’re here to help these boards make the right decision for our community.”
Brown said she believes the federal government should step back from the situation and direct the stored water that Oregon courts have decided to belong to irrigators.
“It’s our property,” she said. “Let’s not just let it go until next year, when we have the same problem.”
Although Irrigation District Chairman Ty Kliewer largely agrees with the group’s sentiments, he said the forced opening of Canal A would cause more harm than good, opening the district to legal action. by the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the works of art.
“I think we have a way to right the great, great evil that has happened here, but it’s a long and arduous road,” Kliewer said. “We have to believe that we are a nation of laws and that those laws are always good.”
Kliewer said the office’s response to the Klamath Drainage District’s recent diversions from the Klamath River, which the district says are carried out under a state water right in addition to the project, suggests that they would immediately close Canal A if the irrigation district turned it on.
“Our water goes through a federal structure. It’s kind of a complicated problem that we have, ”he said. “Water was not getting to (Klamath Union High School) until it was shut off.”
District manager Gene Souza said his staff removed concrete bulkheads from the canal headworks on April 1 in order to load the canals once a small expected amount of water from Upper Klamath Lake became available. At that time, the Bureau of Reclamation predicted that April 15 would be the first day that hijackings could take place.
“This resulted in calls from all the way from Washington DC,” Souza said.
The irrigation district attorney sent a letter to the Complaints Office and received a response from their attorney on April 2, which Souza said contained “a ton of threats” that they would withdraw the contract. of the district. Souza feared that the costs of running and maintaining customers would skyrocket if the irrigation district were taken out of the equation. Other irrigation districts of the Klamath project also base their costs on those of the Klamath irrigation district.
“If we lose this contract and the claim takes over, I think, with any federal bureaucracy, your cost will be tripled,” he said.
For Souza, the experience of the reclamation in early April suggested that removing the canal walls now would not be smart for the irrigation district or its clients. He also mentioned that allowing water to seep into the largely dried up canal system would damage the infrastructure and, potentially, surrounding properties, and that reclamation could easily close the canal and cut it off. non-federal access.
“They own all the infrastructure. It is very easy for them to come in, turn it off, withdraw my access and take my keys, ”he said. “So for me violating the reclamation directive wouldn’t produce a single drop of water for any farmer.”
Irrigation district attorney Nathan Rietmann told protesters that if he believes the water stored in Upper Klamath Lake belongs to irrigators, the best and most lasting solution to the problem is to bring a judge to order the Bureau of Reclamation to recognize it.
The Oregon district litigation succeeded in ordering the Oregon Department of Water Resources not to allow stored water to leave Upper Klamath Lake. The Department of Water Resources issued an order on April 6 directing the Bureau of Reclamation to do just that, but said the agency was not released from obligations required by “federal laws and federal agency regulations.” .
Kliewer said the best actions the protesters could take is to pray for the Irrigation District to prevail in court on May 20, as they will argue that an emergency motion they have filed to reduce the flows released from the Link River Dam for salmon downstream of the Klamath River should be referred to the Klamath County Circuit Court. The federal government referred the case to Federal Court in Eugene last month.
The Irrigation District is also involved in a petition filed by the Klamath Water Users Association to lift the stay of the Yurok Tribe’s lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation regarding the operations of the Klamath Project. Irrigators hope the handling of the case will provide legal clarification on reclamation obligations under the Endangered Species Act.
“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and we’re not going to fix it overnight,” Rietmann said. “As we move forward, I think we need to take the path that is the most strategically advantageous and that gives us the greatest probability of winning at the end of the day.”