The Klamath Irrigation District (KID) board of directors unanimously voted Tuesday to reinstate its membership with the Klamath Water Users Association.
The vote occurred after tense discussions during a special board meeting, where about 50 people crowded into the KID boardroom in what board chairman Dave Cacka called an “unprecedented” attendance.
Farmer Warren Haught called the board’s decision to reinstate Water Users a “good move.”
“It never should have been voted down to start with,” he said.
On Nov. 16, the board voted 3-1 to withdraw from the Klamath Water Users Association. Board members Grant Knoll, Ken Smith and Brent Cheyne voted in favor of withdrawing from Water Users. Board member Greg Carleton voted against withdrawal. Board chairman Dave Cacka was absent.
At yesterday’s meeting, the board voted to reinstate the district’s relationship with Water Users after dozens of impassioned farmers and ranchers who desperately rely on water, demanded to know why the decision was made to withdraw from Water Users.
According to the Water Users’ website, the privately held nonprofit has represented Klamath Project farmers since 1953 and has lobbied for the Klamath ag sector in several arenas, including water quality and quantity, government relations and power costs.
Many audience members asked the board how it planned to move forward while maintaining the high-level legislative representation Water Users provided for KID.
Throughout the meeting several called out, “What’s the plan?”
Frustration abounds
KID farmer Luther Horsley said he has issues with the KID board withdrawing from Water Users because he believes the organization does a lot to protect his interests as an irrigator.
“I think you can see that everybody’s pretty frustrated because when (the KID board) made this decision, there was no plan proposed for how (the board) was going to take care of our rights and our needs. Maybe you need to discuss a plan for how our rights are going to be protected,” said farmer Josh Dubois.
“I would like the board to explain their plan to enforce, maintain and protect, and preserve rights and privileges of the district and its members,” said farmer Todd Koch.
Dean Hill agreed, saying he wanted the board to explain the benefit it sees in withdrawing from Water Users.
Board member Brent Cheyne admitted the “plan” to protect KID farmers is undeveloped.
“We have an incomplete plan at this point,” Cheyne said.
According to Cheyne, the KID board is in talks about forming alliances with other districts that do not belong to Water Users. He said the board may hire a lobbying firm in Salem and another in Washington, D.C.
“We are formulating some stuff. We are having some thoughts. We are having some discussions. If this doesn’t work, we never said we couldn’t come back, or would not come back, and support the Water Users,” he said.
Cheyne said he has reached out to Dalton Advocacy, represented solely by Portland-based lawyer-lobbyist and political adviser, Amanda Dalton.
According to the Dalton Advocacy website, Dalton has more than 15 years of legislative advocacy, public policy and strategic planning experience. The website said she has represented and advocated for grocery, restaurant and retail clients.
“I’m worried about withdrawing from Water Users. I’m also worried about the ‘go it alone’ mentality and how that might affect the district,” said Marshall Staunton.
C Canal repairs a concern

According to Cheyne, KID irrigators pay Water Users about $238,000 per year. He believes that money should put toward paying to replace the C Canal flume, a 93-year-old cement structure that delivers water to roughly 22,000 acres of agricultural land in the Klamath Project.
Cheyne said his decision to vote for withdrawal is “purely a business decision.” According to Cheyne, repaying a loan for the $13 million flume project could generate interest in excess of $12 million.
“In essence, by the time you get done paying for it, you’ve got a $26 million project,” Cheyne said. “That’s $13 an acre per year to pay for the flume to keep the water going to you. Where in the hell is that going to come from?”
“If you have to, raise the (annual fees) again,” said KID farmer John Walker. “You don’t get out of the Water Users that we’ve been in for 50 or 60 years. It’s a ridiculous idea. Getting out of water users is definitely the wrong move.”
Board member Grant Knoll, who represents KID’s Zone 3, said he voted to dissolve the district’s relationship with Water Users because his constituents do not agree with the policies Water Users stands for.
“I’ve polled them, and they want to pull out,” Knoll said.
Ed Bair said he doesn’t endorse everything Water Users does, either.
“But, don’t throw the tractor away when it breaks down. You figure out what happened and find a way to fix it,” Bair said. “If there’s a problem with the way Water Users is run, it only makes sense we address them.”
Board members Ken Smith and Brent Cheyne declined to comment on changing their vote to “in favor” of remaining with Water Users.
Knoll said he is open to options.
“Basically, I’m just going to see where it goes. Obviously my area is still against the Water Users. If they want to reach across the aisle and come up with a better plan than what’s going on, then I’m willing to,” he said.