Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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BUCKET BRIGADE: May 7, 2001
10 years later
18,000 people, 50 buckets of water, dry irrigation canalsThe protest event united Basin irrigators
Ten years ago Saturday, thousands of people created a mile-long line from the A Canal to Lake Ewauna to protest the federal shutoff of irrigation water to the Klamath Reclamation Project.Jess Prosser, a Tulelake potato farmer, dipped the first of 50 buckets of water taken from the lake and passed hand-to-hand down the line to be dumped in symbolic protest in the dry canal that snakes through the community.
What became known as the Klamath Bucket Brigade unified irrigators. It also divided the Basin, pitting its agricultural community against tribal and environmental interests.Protest organizers planned the event to tell the nation their stories of how the loss of irrigation water was devastating farming and ranching in the Klamath Basin. Though the water in 50 four-gallon buckets was a trickle compared with the hundreds of acre-feet of water that usually flowed in the canal, it was a symbolic act. It broke federal mandates for all the water originating from Upper Klamath Lake to go downstream to benefit endangered fish species.
National coverageNational television and other media descended on the area. U.S. lawmakers, including Rep. Greg Walden and then-Sen. Gordon Smith, both R- Ore., were among those passing water down the line.
“This is our home. These are our roots,” said Betty Smurzynski, Prosser’s daughter, at the time. “This is everything to us.”firstname.lastname@example.org
The Klamath County Museums will offer a walking history tour of the Bucket Brigade Protest Saturday to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the event.Museum officials said though issues surrounding the protest are still divisive, it was one of the most memorable events in Klamath history and should be discussed.
“There are some who tried to discourage us from staging this event, out of concern that it’s too controversial,” said Rich Touslee, chairman of the Klamath County Museums board. “The 10-year anniversary of an event like this can’t be ignored, and there are many people who are new to the community who might want to learn about the events of a decade ago.”The tour begins at 1:30 p.m. at the George Nurse historic marker near the intersection of Conger Avenue and Main Street. It ends at Klamath Union High School.
Museum manager Todd Kepple will lead the tour and review the circumstances that led to the protest, which aimed to call attention to the water crisis afflicting the Klamath Basin in 2001. He also will discuss how the protest was organized.“An estimated 18,000 people participated in the bucket brigade, making it by far one of the biggest acts of civil disobedience ever organized in Klamath Falls, if not the entire state of Oregon,” Kepple said.
Discussion will include the big bucket in front of the Klamath County Government Center though it was not placed there until weeks after the event. Museum officials said they interviewed protest organizers and consulted with tribal leaders to ensure fairness in how the event is portrayed.The tour will not be a re-enactment nor take a position in favor or against any issue.
====================================U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., issued the following statement:
“I was a member of theHouse Resources Committee when two government agencies, with conflicting demands and questionable data, shut off the water for irrigated agriculture in 2001. I joined more than 15,000 members of the community in the Bucket Brigade to send the message that we would not accept the destruction of a way of life and the economy in the Basin. “Following the Bucket Brigade, the leaders of the Resources Committee responded to my calls for help with hearings and legislation. We secured $20 million in emergency relief, and we obtained forgiveness from the federal government for operations and maintenance costs. After all, you shouldn’t have to pay for something you don’t get.
“We were committed to lasting solutions to prevent another cut-off, we established historic conservation efforts to improve water management, and we got funds to screen the A Canal and remove Chiloquin Dam. We even passed in the House a hard-fought reform to the Endangered Species Act.“Despite all the work that’s been done, the courts still call the shots absent legislative action that can be signed into law. I pray that we never have to see a repeat of the disaster of 2001. I remain committed to finding solutions that can pass the Congress and support irrigated agriculture in the Basin, and I look forward to working with the Resources Committee as they address these very important issues in the Basin.”
— Ty Beaver
Page Updated: Saturday May 07, 2011 03:29 AM Pacific
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