irrigators protest Reclamation's unlawful use of water
by HOLLY DILLEMUTH
Some Klamath Project water users on Sunday and Monday protested
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s use of water at the Link River
Dam, at one point voicing plans to stay near the dam until
Reclamation followed Oregon water law.
Irrigators took their personal property and belongings from the
area by Monday afternoon, following the ramp down of flows on
the Link River Dam by Bureau of Reclamation officials. The
protest started Sunday evening with upwards of 30 irrigators
gathering near the entrance to the dam, which is owned by
Reclamation and used to regulate Upper Klamath Lake levels and
Klamath River flows at the direction of Reclamation. At issue
was whether Reclamation is following Oregon water law in doing
An interim order put in place by Oregon Water Resources
Department on April 21 gave the state agency charge over the
water distribution and demanded that Reclamation not use water
from Upper Klamath Lake, including in a flushing flow down the
Link River Dam, unless it follows specific guidelines outlined
in the order. The order has not stopped the recent 40,000 acre
foot flushing flow meant to promote the health of juvenile coho
salmon, but Reclamation had already started to ramp down the
flows at the Link River Dam.
Klamath Basin irrigator Shane Cheyne, who was among those
gathered at the Link River Dam most of the day Monday, said a
group of irrigators had asked Sunday evening for Bureau of
Reclamation to ramp flows down to 600 cubic feet per second by
“They’re still taking more than what the state says is legally
what they should,” Cheyne said, “but we’re just trying to take
it one day at a time, one step at a time, and take a small
“They could’ve done the right thing to begin with and we never
would’ve been here before,” Cheyne added.
Dan Nielsen, Klamath Irrigation District board member Grant
Knoll, and several others sat around a charcoal fireplace set up
outside the entrance to the dam Monday morning, talking about
what led to the protest.
“We’re just up here trying to protect our property right,”
Nielsen said, adding he has lived in the Klamath Basin since
1976. “The federal government’s stealing from us.”
Knoll said he would stay as long as needed until Reclamation was
following state water law.
“We’d like the Secretary of the Interior to enter into a
contract to buy stored water from the irrigators so they can
continue to run water down the river lawfully, and abide by
state and federal,” Knoll said.
It was unclear whether such a request to the Secretary of
Interior David Bernhardt was made on Monday.
Law enforcement and Reclamation officials were on hand, as well
as Klamath County Commissioner Donnie Boyd. Boyd spent much of
the day with irrigators, facilitating talks.
“I believe that the people who were at the Link River Dam got
the attention of the federal government today,” Boyd said.
By mid-afternoon on Monday, PacifiCorp workers were ramping down
flows at the dam to 1,700 cubic feet per second, and that was
followed by many irrigators removing their belongings from the
area near the dam.
Reclamation officials have said they will continue to follow
federal law following the interim order by OWRD.
“We’ve been trying to work with the water users and these folks
on all of this,” said Jeff Nettleton, manager of the Klamath
Basin Area Office.
“I understand their concerns,” he added.
Nettleton was with crews at the dam, all wearing masks in light
of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they brought flows down to 1,700
cubic feet per second.
“It’s what we would’ve done although we’re a little bit behind
schedule because of the situation here,” Nettleton said.
“Reclamation’s just working really hard to use all the tools in
the toolbox to help the water users, the Project, the downriver
needs for the salmon and the needs in the lake and the Suckers.
We’re just trying to work with all the different needs in the
Basin to maximize the best use of the available water that we’ve
got. It’s just a really hard year,” he described.
Klamath Water Users Association, which represents various
irrigation districts in the Klamath Project, also released a
statement on the protest: “Klamath Water Users Association is
devoting all of its time and effort toward helping producers
make it through a bad year and working constructively with the
Department of the Interior on this year and future years’
Klamath Project operations. We had no prior knowledge of the
protest activities at Link River Dam, and the overwhelming
majority of farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Project have had
no involvement with that activity. KWUA recognizes and strongly
supports the rights of assembly and speech including peaceful
protest. We will unequivocally condemn any acts of property
destruction, violence, threats, or intimidation.”
Irrigators who gathered were on PacifiCorp land but PacifiCorp
did not ask the police department to tell them to leave,
according to Chief of Police Dave Henslee at midday.
Bob Gravely, spokesperson for PacifiCorp, said on Monday morning
the company was aware of the protest and company officials were
working with law enforcement and Reclamation officials
throughout the day.
“PacifiCorp and Reclamation were able to access the dam
mid-afternoon without incident to adjust the flows consistent
with Reclamation directives,” according to a statement from
Gravely late Monday.
Passersby continued to walk dogs and walk and run on the Link
River Trail throughout the day Monday as irrigators gathered.
Henslee described the protest as “peaceful.”
“There wasn’t any property damage, there was no threats to
anybody’s welfare or personal health,” Henslee said.
“I didn’t get the perception that there was any interference to
public traffic through there,” he added.
Henslee said he was on hand to help protect the irrigators’
right to a peaceful protest.
Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber was also on site Monday
“As long as they’re having a peaceful protest and they’re
abiding by the laws, that’s wonderful,” Henslee said. “They have
the right to protest and the right to assemble, and right to
free speech so we’re going to protect their constitutional
rights to protest in a peaceful, legal manner.”
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