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Siskiyou, Modoc, Klamath counties come together to secure water for farms

Siskiyou Daily News by Liz Bowen, Liz Writes Life, May 13, 2021

Liz BowenLast Friday, I listened to a significant zoom meeting. It was held in Tulelake with our Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors cooperatively meeting with Modoc County Supervisors and the Klamath County Commissioners. The goal of the meeting was to approve two letters: One to California and Oregon Congress officials and state legislators asking for financial help regarding the Klamath Project due to its tragic lack of irrigation water for 2021. The second was to U.S. President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. also asking for help.

Our Siskiyou County Board Chairman Ray Haupt, made the motions to approve both letters, which passed overwhelmingly.

The situation is dire for not only agriculture, but many businesses throughout the Klamath Basin as unemployment will jump and the resulting domino effect will be felt. Bankruptcies will happen.

Ray told me this is a “human tragedy” and will also hurt the county with a “significant tax loss.” Much of the Tulelake area is part of the Klamath Project. In previous columns, I have discussed this 2021 and the 2001 losses of legal irrigation water to the Klamath Project farmers. During the zoom meeting, farmers explained their predicaments. These issues were addressed in the letters approved by the three county boards. Because the wording is so succinct, I have included several paragraphs, below: 

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“As you are aware, Klamath Project irrigators are at the beginning of a disastrous water year where the Bureau of Reclamation has announced 33,000 acre-feet of available irrigation supply from Upper Klamath Lake, less than 10% of needed project deliveries. In recent weeks, based on deteriorating hydrology, even this projected amount now appears to be optimistic. This means that hundreds of family farms will not be able to produce the crops and livestock that have not only been the hallmark of the Klamath Basin, but that also provide food and fiber throughout the world.

“In addition, and just as importantly, thousands of farm and ranch workers will be left without employment, and businesses that rely on active farming and ranching will experience a profound decrease in business. Sadly, our National Wildlife Refuges will also suffer, which will have far-ranging implications up and down the Pacific Flyway.

“In order to assist irrigators through this season so that they may be able to continue their operations into the future, we request a minimum of $45 million for funding programs of the Klamath Project Drought Response Agency (DRA). At this time there is $15 million available, for funding programs, leaving a shortfall of $30 million. We urge you to continue to work together with your colleagues and with the Administration to identify and/or earmark additional funding for farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Project.

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“We would welcome the power of your offices in channeling parties toward constructive prioritization of real needs. With that said, we are aware that tribal and non-tribal fishing communities have identified a need for disaster relief. Recognizing the many arguments about the causes of depleted fisheries, we support all efforts to pursue financial assistance for those resource-dependent communities for injury they may experience.”

Both letters can be found on the Siskiyou Supervisors website and are worth the read. The three counties also said they are concerned about fractured conditions in the basin and fear that some of the communities may be exploited by outside interests.

This is not the first time for the three counties to coordinate and use their clout of representing two states in a regional area that is continually at risk. Ray said they work collaboratively at various times, especially on water issues. One has been to defend “saving” the Klamath dams.

“Solutions must be offered,” Ray said.

I applaud the three county boards for their leadership and desire to defend and aid their residents. Thank you!

Courthouse protest

Next situation!

Hundreds of residents in Siskiyou County protested last Thursday at the Siskiyou County Courthouse in Yreka. Inside the courthouse, a hearing was being held regarding a civil case alleging water from an agriculture well, in Shasta Valley, was used for the illegal growing of marijuana. The case cited a county ordinance that does not allow water to be “wasted” from agriculture wells and alleges that water was wasted when used for a criminal activity. From what I have learned, no decision has yet to be made from the hearing.

The protesters held signs saying they deserved to have water. In my opinion that is not the problem. Yes, they deserve to have water. The problem is that significant underground water is being used to grow illegal crops and contributes to organized crime, which Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue has said is the biggest challenge facing our county.

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I showed up to see the protest, but couldn’t hear much of what the suited organizers on the courthouse steps said. I do believe they interacted with Sheriff LaRue. Police vehicles stopped traffic to the courthouse-block allowing for pedestrian access and the crowd to stand in street. From what I could see, it remained calm although there was chanting.

Another reason for the protest was the recent much-tougher urgency water ordinances the Siskiyou County Supervisors’ Board approved on Tuesday. The first urgency ordinance on well water makes it illegal to pump and move well water off the parcel (or adjoining parcel) from which it originates unless there is a permit issued by the county. Yes, this sounds onerous, but in April I took a drive up A-12 and was shocked to see so many water tanker trucks traveling back and forth in just that small area. It is illegal to grow commercial marijuana in Siskiyou County, so why have hundreds of new greenhouses been built in the Shasta Vista area? Even I have seen the aerial photos of masses of marijuana plants.

Another new ordinance is centered on any vehicle hauling over 100 gallons of water in the county. It must have a permit to do so and the ordinance also makes the use on certain roads in the county illegal – without authorization. The fine is $100. The ordinances passed. The size of the fine is established by state judicial rules.

From what I have learned is that these tougher ordinances place the burden of how the water (being hauled) will be used to the truck driver and or owner of the vehicle. This is much more cost effective and simpler for law enforcement. Much more practical to my mind.

I will stick my neck out here and be vocal against these illegal marijuana grows, illegal use of agricultural water and the massive organized crime that I allege is the culprit. Sheriff LaRue, CHP and all law enforcement agencies need our support against any and all criminal activities. I want our county to be a safe place to live and work for all county residents.

May peace and calm be with you this week. Smile – just cuz it makes you feel better!

Liz Bowen began writing ranch and farm news, published in newspapers, in 1976. She is a native of Siskiyou County and lives near Callahan. Columns from the past can be found at: lizwriteslife.blogspot.com. Call her at 530-467-3515.



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