Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Herald and News editorial 3/12/06
Time to move past symbol of 2001 conflict?
No one who was close to the water war that enveloped the Klamath Basin in 2001 is likely to forget it. Those who weren’t should be aware of this important part of Klamath County history.
It was the year the unthinkable happened — water was cut off from irrigators on most of the Klamath Reclamation Project. There had been droughts before, and times when water from Upper Klamath Lake — the reclamation project’s main reservoir — had been cut back. But the water in the A Canal, which channels Upper Klamath’s water to the district’s farms, had never been completely shut down.
The cause was a historic collision between promises made by the federal government to farmers it had encouraged to come to the Klamath Basin, and promises it had made through treaties to Indian tribes along with obligations to follow the Endangered Species Act, whose special protections have been extended to fish species in both the upper and the lower Klamath River basins.
The conflict played out through the summer of 2001. A group of protesters took over the headgates of the A Canal in what was known as the “Klamath Tea Party,” and spent the summer there. Occasionally, they were able to release a small amount of water into the canal — but most of the time it was dry, as were farms in the Klamath Project that had relied on it. It was a devastating time for many of the farmers.
Many remarkable events took place that year.
This 10-foot bucket was installed in front of the Klamath County Government Center in a show of support by thousands of people when the Klamath Basin went through its water crisis in 2001.
One was the “Bucket Brigade” in May, when hundreds of people lined the streets of Klamath Falls to pass 50 buckets of water hand to hand to dump water from Lake Ewauna, near Veterans Park in the downtown area, to the A Canal near Klamath Union High School in a technical violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Some water eventually did flow through the A Canal later in the irrigation season when the Bush White House got involved, but a lot of damage had been done already .
Another type of bucket brigade followed, when backers of the irrigators from many other states came to Klamath Falls to show support, driving their vehicles through the downtown streets. A crowd estimated at 4,000 gathered between the Klamath County Courthouse and the County Government Center across the street. They put a 10-foot-high bucket in place in front of the Government Center on Aug. 21, 2001, where it remains.
The question is, should it?
There are some points to consider on both sides, and we’d like to have your opinions.
While a remarkable symbol of the conflict, over time the bucket takes on the aspect of curio, and it deserves better. There’s not much explanation on it — just the words:
Klamath Bucket Brigade Elko to Klamath NV UT ID OR
That doesn’t tell people much.
We don’t think that what happened in 2001 should ever be forgotten, especially the impact of “bad science” that led to cutting off the water without having a scientific basis for doing so.
The Basin needs to press for solutions to its water problems. It should put deep water storage near the top of the list. It should never lose sight of the fact that what happened once, can happen again.
But there are some other points to consider.
To a large degree, the 2001 conflict put tribal members and non-tribal members on different sides, and both sides had solid moral or legal claims to water. Is the 10-foot bucket sitting at the center of county government a thumb in the eye of tribal members?
There are also non-tribal people in Klamath County who didn’t agree with the irrigators’ stand, and the bucket doesn’t represent them.
People who worked for the federal government, and their families, became targets of hostility when most of them were simply carrying out the law. What’s the bucket say to them?
All people who live in Klamath County should be able to rely on an even-handed administration of the laws. What perception is there when a symbol such as the bucket remains the focal point of county government?
What about people new to the area, or just visiting? When they find out what the bucket symbolizes, do they wonder if Klamath County is a place that can’t move beyond past difficulties, especially when real solutions to the water situation requires the cooperation of many parties?
As to what should happen to the bucket, we suspect the Klamath County Museum could find a nice home for it among its other memorials of important events in Klamath County history.
But what do you think? Let us know.
Letters to the editor should be addressed to the Herald and News, Box 788, Klamath Falls, OR 97601. The fax number is 885-4456 and the E-mail address is heraldandnews@ heraldandnews.com.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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