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Ranchers rally for water

  Protesters say their livelihood could be ruined by shutoffs

 by SAMANTHA TIPLER, Herald and News 7/1/13 

     John Briggs, who ranches north of Chiloquin, stood with hundreds of people Monday morning on the steps of the Klamath County Courthouse. Briggs has been on his ranch for 30 years. “I built it,” he said. “I put in the pumps. I put in the irrigation. I took out the stumps. I planted the grass. I built the corrals. I built the barn. I built everything. And I created my piece of the American dream. I have fed, in 30 years, thousands of people with the beef that I raised.” Like many of the ranchers standing beside Briggs, he has had his water shut off. His was stopped Thursday. “This is my piece of the American dream,” he said. “I am 63 years old. Every single president of the United States has talked about the American dream. And mine   was just taken away from me.”

   Briggs and ranchers from around the Klamath Basin rallied Monday from the Klamath County Fairgrounds to the courthouse. They drove through Klamath Falls in a long convoy of trucks, semis, hay trailers, cattle trailers, tractors and nearly every other type of farm vehicle. At the courthouse, about 500 people waited with signs, cheering the convoy.

   Ranchers were making a statement: If water is shut off, it will hurt the Basin. It won’t just hurt the ranchers who may have to sell their cattle early or move the animals out of the area, it will hurt all of the local economy.

   The Klamath County watermaster has turned off water to irrigators in the upper Basin like Briggs to comply with adjudication, the first-in-time, first-in-right water law that went into effect in March. The senior water users, Klamath Tribes and the Klamath Project irrigators made calls for water June 10.        “Public awareness is huge,” Briggs said. “We’re hoping the adjudication will realize what our problem is and get us turned back on.”

   The Klamath Basin isn’t the only place paying attention. The state and nation are watching Klamath.

   “When I talk to people from out of state, it’s the conversation,” said Ray Marino, of Redmond, president of Water for Life. “You always have water as the No. 1 issue.”

   He commended the grassroots effort that put the rally together in only a week’s time. He believed Monday’s events will have a big impact across the nation.

   “The Klamath Basin is the footprint, the map, for the entire United States,” he said. “It has nothing to do with lower Basin,  upper Basin, cowboys vs. Indians — that’s not what it’s about. This has national implications. Everybody in the entire United States that has a dog in the fight is paying close attention.”

   Ray Sessler, president elect of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, said water shutoffs in Klamath Basin ranching will affect the state’s $868 million cattle industry.

   “There are people in the Klamath valley right now that are hauling their cattle out of the state of Oregon because there is no water,” he said. “Out of Sprague River and that area that got shutoff 10 days ago, that’s going to do nothing but impact the financial side of things. It’s insane.”

   He also hoped the rally would help inform people about how adjudication   will affect their daily lives, via the cattle industry.

   “People need to understand, how does their food get to Safeway? How does it get there? Look at this,” he said, motioning at the cattle trucks driving by and the protesters lining Main Street. “My God.

   “People need to wake up,” he continued. “People get in their own little bubbles and they just don’t understand what’s going on. As long as they’re happy and safe, it’s OK. As long as they can go to Safeway it’s all right.”

   All three Klamath County commissioners attended the rally.   Klamath County Commissioner Tom Mallams commended the rally on its peacefulness.

   “I want this to be a rally to bring our community together. That’s what’s needed here. I think we’re at that point where our community can come together,” Mallams said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re an irrigator in the upper Basin, lower Basin, or a tribal member or a citizen of the city — this affects all of us. We need all those people to get together, which I think is happening right now.”

    stipler@heraldandnews.com  ; @TiplerHN  


  H&N photo by Dave Martinez

   A child walks across the street from the Klamath County Courthouse to the Klamath County Government Center holding a sign that says, “Save my future ranch.”




  H&N photos by Samantha Tipler

   Protesters shout and cheer at the Klamath water rally Monday morning. Below, the focus for many protesters was preserving the viability of ranching for future generations.




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