KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. —A group of Klamath Falls farmers is becoming activists this spring, as they fight for water rights. They’ve now purchased the property and are setting up shop right next to the headgates of the “A” Canal.
The two landowners and project irrigators have set up an encampment. They say they aren’t leaving until the “A” Canal headgates are opened.
Last week this 40 by 80 canvas tent popped up out of nowhere on Nevada Street in Klamath Falls. Dan Nielsen and Grant Knoll, both landowners and project irrigators are the brains behind the operation.
“We bought this property just so we could set this camp up, we’ve just been slowly but surely getting more things set up just trying to educate people here,” said Nielsen.
The two say the encampment will act as space for people to come and discuss the ongoing water crisis in the basin. And they’re dug in for the long haul-motor homes, a fire pit, and port-a-potties are all set up.
“Myself and Danny thought if we set up the tent here people driving by might stop by wonder what’s going on and they stop here and start asking questions and we try and explain whats going on to and from the public,” said Knoll.
On May 12th, Klamath Project farmers were told by the Bureau of Reclamation that there wasn’t enough water in Upper Klamath Lake to open the “A” Canal during the 2021 irrigation season. It’s the first time it ever happened, leaving thousands of irrigators without water.
The Bureau of Reclamation said water levels were half of what is needed to charge the canal.
“The heart of the matter is we simply don’t have the supply necessary to charge the canal this year,” said Jared Bottcher, Acting Area Manager with the Bureau of Reclamation.
The Klamath Water Users Association says some supporters of agriculture have since been intimidating federal employees, something it condemned. According to the KWUA, names and addresses of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation employees have recently been published on social media.
KWUA President Ben Duval says the actions are completely out of line, and they will hurt Klamath Project agriculture. But for Nielsen and Knoll, emotions are raw right now.
“The Bureau of Reclamation told us early on in April that we were gonna get some water, then they dropped it down to about 33,000 acre-feet of water, now it’s down to we’re going to get zero,” said Nielsen.
For the two men, the situation isn’t entirely new. The Bucket Brigade protest focused national attention on Klamath Falls in 2001. The Klamath Tribes have senior water rights to Upper Klamath Lake. The courts ruled that they get first dibs on the water to sustain endangered fish.
“I’m up here because the federal government is just stealing our water and cutting us 100% off so we’re just trying to make a stand and get it back,” said Nielsen.
Peoples Rights Oregon, the militia group founded by Ammon Bundy, who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, is now getting involved. Nielsen says he’s in contact with Bundy, and he is planning to support them but didn’t specify when.
“Law enforcement and everybody thought we were bringing him here to tear the headgates out and cause a big ruckus, but heck we are just trying to get him to educate,” said Nielsen.
For now, the group remains camped out under their red and white canvas tent, right across the street from the “A” Canal headgates.
“We’re going to have rallies and protests, and if it that what it takes to open up the headgates again that’s what we’ll do,” said Knoll.
Last week southern Oregon U.S Representative Cliff Bentz, and northern California U.S. Representative Doug LaMalfa got involved. The two Republicans are proposing an aid plan for $57-million.The representatives say a bulk of the aid money, would assist farmers through the USDA.
NBC5 News Reporter Jenna King is a Burbank native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at the U of O, she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through interning with the PAC 12 Network.
When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors, or binging on the latest Netflix release.