Shut down and fed up.
That’s the slogan advertising a “Call to Unity” tractor convoy planned for Friday, May 29 starting in Merrill that is aimed at drawing local support from businesses and national attention to the impending water shutoff in the Klamath Project that could occur by or before July.
Ben DuVal, who serves as vice president of Klamath Water Users Association, is part of a team of organizers and expects upwards of 1,000 or more people at the grass-roots event. The convoy will travel about 20 miles from Merrill at 10 a.m., through downtown Klamath Falls and past the A Canal head gates around 11 a.m., and end at a field just south of Miller Island Road in Midland at or around 3 p.m. Organizers, including DuVal, Klamath Basin businessman Bob Gasser, and others, are looking to support for the convoy.
“We’re asking farm supporters far and wide to join our movement,” Gasser said, in a news release.
“It’s not going to be limited to just tractors and farm equipment. You can fire up your gravel truck, your logging truck, your pickup truck or even your car, and join us, too. We want to draw public attention to the need to fix the flows and save our farms,” Gasser added. “Hopefully, this will also draw the attention of President Trump and his administration. We know how committed he is in securing America’s food supply and we need him to know that his goal is in danger here in the Basin.”
DuVal said Timber Unity in Salem is also planning to attend the rally as well as agricultural producers from outside of the Klamath Project.
“It’s important that we show the government officials in charge that this is not okay to continue to make bad decisions for 20 years that are ruining the economy in the Basin and not work towards a solution to that,” DuVal said.
DuVal expects to see individuals showing support with signs as the convoy rolls through local towns and encourages businesses to do the same.
“Everybody realizes the economic impact that ag has and that it’s kind of the foundation of the economy here in the Klamath Basin,” DuVal said. “There’s been a tremendous outpouring of support from the local business community. We really appreciate that.”
Two decades following the water shutoff in 2001, DuVal said he never imagined he and others in the Project would be back in the same place they were then in terms of limited water allocation in 2020.
With the Project’s initial water allocation of 140,000 acre feet being reduced to an available 55,000 acre feet of water, the outlook for farmers and ranchers is no water for fields by mid-summer.
DuVal said while the Project’s water supply hasn’t been shut off at this time, it’s possible in the near future.
“Basically our allocation with what is in the Project is six inches of water,” DuVal said. “It’s really disappointing to see how bad it was in 2001 and see solutions on the table and then to get to a point where 20 years later, nothing has changed.
“Nothing’s getting any better for the sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake, and nothing’s getting any better for the salmon down river. There’s no reason why we have to go to a point where I have to be completely shut off.”
Jeff Nettleton, area manager for the Klamath Basin Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation, said a lot of questions remain as to why the sucker populations haven’t recovered.
“We just don’t know why particularly the juvenile fish aren’t recruiting into the population there, and we also don’t know the answers to what to do about the C. shasta disease in the river.
“That’s one reason we’ve worked hard, all the parties, to develop this interim operations plan,” he added, “...and extended period to reconsult (the biological opinion) so we can continue to work on some science and information needs to hopefully have better answers to those questions.”
Nettleton said he is supportive of the irrigators’ right to demonstrate and call attention to the challenges they face this water year.
“It certainly is reminiscent of 2001,” Nettleton said.
“The operational decisions that Reclamation is making are not impacted by things like that. We make our decisions based on the best information we have and sound management of the water supply.
“Those things are guided by the Biological Opinion, and a whole host of criteria,” he added.
Nettleton hopes to see continuing precipitation in the Basin so the demand for water is reduced.
“We’ll take anything we can get but we just don’t know,” Nettleton said.
DuVal said every day now is critical to try and utilize every little bit of moisture that is left in the Project soil.
DuVal grows alfalfa so his crops are already planted.
“Basically my focus this year is keep the crops that I already have established alive and maximize production with what little water is available,” DuVal said.
“I mitigated my risk in my mind by planting alfalfa,” DuVal said. “You can do well with a little bit of water. But it does make me question the future, not so much for myself but for my kids.”
DuVal will be bringing his 11 and 13-year-old daughters to the convoy and encourages families to do the same, whether they roll down the street in a car, truck, or other vehicle.
He said there’s no limit on participating vehicles, and social distancing will be in place with the pace set by tractors.
“We’re trying to be aware of that and keep everybody safe and healthy at the same time while making a political statement,” DuVal said.
“Basically we’re just wanting to get the businesses behind it, have farms there that are being impacted by this, which is basically everybody in the (Project) and even farms that aren’t being impacted by it are showing up to support it.”
Paul Simmons, executive director of the KWUA, expressed support for the event but said it was not a KWUA event.
“We’re supportive of things that would help bring attention to our circumstances in a peaceful way,” Simmons said.
“I think people are concerned that it’s not well understood … of how difficult the circumstances are and how unreasonable the state of regulation of the Project has become,” Simmons added.
The rally will end in a local farmer’s field in Midland, where vehicles will park, and each driver will plant a symbolic white cross in the ground.
“This symbolic act will honor those who farmed before us, including the unfortunate families who no longer operate because of the increasingly uncertain water supply,” said Scott Seus, a Tulelake farmer, in a news release. “For the remainder of this summer, those crosses will provide a grim reminder to passersby of the fate that awaits our rural communities if things don’t change.”