KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. —A group of Klamath farmers, are continuing to fight for their water rights. They’re now telling the media they plan to breach the fence and open the headgates of the A Canal themselves.
NBC5 News first told you last week, two of them purchased the property and set up shop right next to the headgates. Last week they said that they weren’t leaving till the headgates of the A Canal were opened, but said all would remain peaceful. Wednesday, they’re telling JPR, they plan on breaking onto federal property to force open the headgates.
Tensions, rising in the Klamath Basin.
Dan Nielsen and Grant Knoll, both landowners and project irrigators purchased land directly next to the headgates back in April.
“I’m up here because the federal government is stealing our water,” said Nielsen.
The two set up a 40 by 80 red and white canvas tent along Nevada Street in Klamath Falls.
“It’s kind of just an investment property for us, we just bought it for a little investment here and then to set this camp up, to keep people from trying to run us off,” said Nielsen.
The large tent has been used as a gathering area, called the Water Crisis Info Center. Its been a rallying point for support, and a spot for speakers to voice their opinions.
“Well you can’t get any better than this its right on the headgates, this chain-link fence is the only thing that separates us, so it’s the perfect spot to be if you want to have a stand,” said Nielsen.
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 its 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.
“I have now spoken twice with the secretary of the interior asking that she please try to allocate at least a portion of the water that’s in the lake to the farmers,” said Rep. Bentz.
Last month 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.
“This drought affects 70 million people across the western United States, there’s going to have to be much more attention placed on it and I’m very happy to bring it to the attention of the nation,” said Rep. Bentz.
Despite this, according to JPR, Nielsen and Knoll say they plan to enter the fenced area surrounding the headgates, which is topped with barbed wire and posted keep-out signs, and force open the A Canal. The article also mentions the two say they are both prepared to do what it takes to get access to the water they believe is theirs.
“Pretty soon we’re gonna get this water flowing one way or another, this water is gonna flow this year, we’re not gonna let the government steal our water,” said Nielsen.
But the congressman is offering his advice to the group in a five on 5 feature interview Wednesday.
“My advice is don’t, the challenge is now not to prove that the water belongs to any one group, the challenge is to find the money to get to that community to try and offset the damage they are going to sustain,” said Rep. Bentz.
And more help could be on the way, Neilsen says, Ammon Bundy, leader of the 2016 Malheur occupation, is in full support of what the group is doing. 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 just try to get him to educate,” said Nielsen.
Again Bentz, who as a State Legislator, represented Malheur County during that occupation, says they should focus their energy elsewhere.
“We don’t want to be breaking the law, what we want to be doing is working together as a group in that basin together we’re stronger you’ve heard it a million times and we need to be doing everything we can, which we’ve been doing.”
A timeline for the group’s next steps remains uncertain. They didn’t return our interview requests Wednesday.