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Klamath Irrigators Group Urges Supporters To Stop Harassing Government Workers Amid Drought

2017 file photo of irrigation infrastructure on the Klamath Project.
Jes Burns
2017 file photo of irrigation infrastructure on the Klamath Project.

Last week many Klamath irrigators got word that they’d be receiving no water from the main canal that feeds their farmlands. They’re angry, and they’re taking it out on government workers.

A group representing irrigators is urging its supporters to stop intimidating and harassing government workers.

Mark Johnson of the Klamath Water Users Association says some people are posting personal information like phone numbers and home addresses online.

“And that's just unacceptable,” Johnson says. “It's not their fault. I mean, they're just doing as they're told. They understand the hydrology and they're just the messenger of the bad news.”

Irrigators normally get water from the Upper Klamath Lake, but the Bureau of Reclamation announced it’s closing the major canal this season. That’s never happened since it opened in 1907.

Bureau officials say the lake is too low, and diverting its water this year could cause further harm to two endangered fish species critical to the Klamath Tribes.

In a press release, KWUA wrote: “There are rumors that people are being recruited from other parts of the country to participate in demonstrations. In the past, persons threatening property have represented a tiny fraction of the irrigated acreage in the Klamath Project.”

After last week’s announcement, the users association blasted the federal government for prioritizing two endangered species over water for irrigators.

The canal, known as “A Canal,” diverts water from Upper Klamath Lake to irrigators in Klamath County in Oregon as well as Siskiyou and Modoc counties across the border in California. The Bureau says worsening drought in the region forced their decision.

National Integrated Drought Information System
A map from drought.gov shows that parts of Klamath County are in the highest level of "exceptional" drought.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared drought emergencies in eight counties, including Klamath, Lake and Jackson counties. The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows the region experiencing extreme and, in some areas, exceptional drought.

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.