Irrigation backers rally in Klamath Falls

Farmers, ranchers are losing water as tribes protect fish

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KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Trucks roared through downtown Klamath Falls for nearly an hour Monday in a rally in support of farmers and ranchers losing irrigation water as a drought tightens.

Sponsors said the rally was designed to draw attention to the impact of water shut-offs under way in the Upper Klamath Basin, where the Klamath Tribes have exercised newly affirmed water rights in the interest of conserving fish.

There were 225 vehicles in the convoy that went from the Klamath County Fairgrounds to downtown, organizer Eric Duarte said.

About 500 people on the sidewalks and steps in front of the courthouse and government center.

Duarte, a Beatty auctioneer and water user, told the Herald and News in advance of the rally that his water coming from the Sprague River was shut off last week, and he may have to sell yearlings before they reach full weight, salvaging as much of his remaining feed as he can for his cows and calves.

"We want to show a little awareness of what is going on in the Klamath Basin as far as agriculture," he said. "It does not have anything to do with the upper Basin or the tribe. It states an agricultural and economic impact awareness. It's a rally to show awareness in Klamath Basin about the only industry we have left."

The rally came a dozen years after tensions over a drought and water curtailments reached a peak. On July 1, 2001, the control mechanism known as the headgates to a major irrigation canal was opened illegally as protests over that year's restrictions intensified.