Klamath farmers gather for showdown with federal officials over irrigation water

Downtown Klamath Falls was the focus of an eight-block anti-government demonstration Tuesday at local farmers and their supporters protested a federal decision this spring to shut off irrigation water to protect three species of endangered fish.

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore., August 21, 2001 -- Downtown Klamath Falls was the focus of an eight-block anti-government demonstration Tuesday at local farmers and their supporters protested a federal decision this spring to shut off irrigation water to protect three species of endangered fish.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in April decided to stop letting water out of the Upper Klamath Lake for irrigation of a reclamation district, a move which has caused most of the region's crops to fail.

Federal officials who turned on some water last month decided to wait until Thursday to completely shut off the flow to the farmers, at least until next spring, but some members of the 4,000-strong crowd gathered in Klamath Falls vowed to do whatever it takes to get the water going again, including civil disobedience.

The conflict has risen between Indian tribes, commercial fishermen and environmental groups who had sued under the federal Endangered Species Act, and the more than 1,000 farmers who depend entirely on irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake.

Since the water was shut off to farms in April, anti-government and property rights groups have helped farmers run a 24-hour protest at the headgates where the lake runs into the Klamath River. Last month, a group of people cut open a gate and temporarily opened the tap feeding a main irrigation canal. Federal officials now are guarding the gates.

Under the 1902 Reclamation Act, California and Oregon turned over wetland areas in the Klamath Basin to the federal government. The areas were drained and farmers moved in to plow the land for such crops as potatoes, hay and barley.

Klamath Basin farming generates as much as $500 million a year.

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