Speed Reads

Western Water Wars

Southern Oregon is bracing for a tense anti-government 'standoff' over irrigation water

Oregon just had its driest April in 80 years, and rainfall during the typically wet months of March and April was the lowest since 1924, The Associated Press reports. The acute drought led the federal Bureau of Reclamation to announce last month that it won't release any water from Upper Klamath Lake in Southern Oregon, leaving tribes, wildlife, and farmers in the 240,000-acre Klamath Project irrigation zone high and dry.

The native tribes, which have first rights to the water under a long-fought 2013 court ruling, are upset about a drought-related parasite that's decimating the salmon they rely on, The Oregonian reports. And some of the farmers in the Klamath Project are up in arms — specifically, Grant Knoll and Dan Nielsen, who are promising a "standoff" with the federal government. 

When Knoll and Nielsen purchased land in April right outside the fence protecting the headgates that feed the "A" Canal, the main irrigation channel for the Klamath Project, Nielsen called it an "investment" to "be close to the enemy," meaning the Bureau of Reclamation. Knoll and Nielsen have ties to militant anti-government activist Ammon Bundy, infamous for leading the 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge; Bundy has said he will come to Klamath Falls to participate in a federal showdown, if asked, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports

Knoll told Jefferson Public Radio on Monday that he and Nielsen plan to break through the fence protecting the headgates and try to release some water, like they did in 2001, the last time water levels were too low for irrigation. "I'm planning on getting D.C.'s attention," he said. "We're going to turn on the water and have a standoff." Nielsen said when he and his allies break into the headgates, "[we're] not going to be armed but they're probably going to be people on the outside protecting us, and if it's not our sheriff, we'll have people protect us."

Gene Souza, who manages the Klamath Irrigation District, told OPB "the sad part" of Knoll and Nielsen's plan is it "would not result in a single drop of water being delivered to their farm," thanks to five massive steel gates locked together to block the flow of water.

A standoff also wouldn't solve the underlying problem: Too many claims on too little water amid a changing climate. You can read more about the issue at The Oregonian and OPB.