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The Klamath Water Crisis: 5 years later
by Ty Beaver and Steve Kadel, Herald and News July 4, 2006
    The sound of metal being cut by a chainsaw and torch rang out in Klamath Falls five years ago today. 

    Klamath Basin farmers linked arms and opened the head gates of the A Canal to allow water to flow from Upper Klamath Lake. 

    It was the third and most organized attempt to provide Klamath Basin farmers with irrigation water in a crisis pitting farmers against a government seeking to protect endangered and threatened fish. 
    “It was a very emotional time for people on all sides of the issue,” said Klamath County sheriff Tim Evinger. 

    Momentum had been building for weeks. It was the driest year on record for Klamath Falls since 1924. In early May 2001, farmers organized a bucket brigade that took water from Lake Ewauna to the A Canal to demonstrate the need for irrigation water. 

    The brigade attracted national attention and media coverage, including spots on CNN and Fox News. In June 2001, pay raises for Klamath County officials were scratched to help local farmers hurt by the water crisis, and more than 1,500 people attended hearings held by the House Committee on Resources. 

    The gates were first opened illegally July 1, 2001. Officials with the Bureau of Reclamation did not close them until the next day, but warned that no one was to use any of the water released. But the gates were opened again on July 3, prompting a quicker response from Bureau of Reclamation officials who used welds to further secure them. 

    Those welds lasted only several minutes against the torch used by Klamath Basin farmers five years ago, and a crowd of about 100 people formed a human shield to block them from view. Local law enforcement monitored the situation from their vehicles to ensure no one was injured, but they did not stop the protesters. 

    Evinger said he spent a great deal of that summer watching the situation, to ensure public safety. 

    The federal government told him and other local law enforcement officials not to interfere until later in the year, he said. By that point, federal officials had made so many poor decisions, Evinger said he refused to do anything but keep citizens safe. 

    Protesters consulted with Evinger with their planned activities, and he would tell them what would be over the line and result in arrest. Not once did they cross the line, he said. 

    “It was sort of like officiating a game,” the sheriff said. 

    Water isn’t in such short supply this year. Precipitation is nearly two inches above average for the period since Jan. 1. But that doesn’t mean the Basin couldn’t see the same problem again. 

    Federal mandates to maintain lake levels for endangered suckers and Klamath River flows for threatened coho are still in place, said Greg Addington, president of the Klamath Water Users Association.

  He said it’s time to reconsider the biological opinions in light of more recent scientific findings.

“It shouldn’t be fish versus farmers. We can have
both if we’re flexible,” Addington said.



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