In 2001, John Crawford watched as Congressman Greg Walden
poured a bucket of water into the A Canal as part of the
Bucket Brigade, a demonstration stemming from the water
shutoff that year.
Crawford, who farms about 3,000 acres
in Tulelake with his brother and son, was the first speaker
at the “Shut Down and Fed Up” tractor rally in Midland on
Friday afternoon. He addressed a crowd of more than 2,000
people from a semitrailer stage, with the bucket from the
Bucket Brigade hoisted up for all to see.
On Friday, Crawford said that in 2001,
he was hopeful that he would not experience the same
situation and during a crisis much more serious than in
hope is that somehow my 4-year-old triplet grandsons will
have the opportunity that was afforded my brother and myself
by our grandfather and father. Without change, that hope
will surely fade away,” he told the crowd, full of attendees
from the all-day convoy.
The “Shut Down and Fed Up” convoy
started Friday morning in Merrill and spanned more than 20
miles while traveling through downtown Klamath Falls and
finally to Midland. The convoy could be seen all over the
three Basin communities, and included participants from
Southern and Central Oregon, and California. The convoy and
rally served as a more far-reaching public demonstration
with which organizers aimed to attract national attention
from President Donald Trump to the pending end of the
irrigation season in or around July.
Farmers were initially told in April
by Bureau of Reclamation they would receive 140,000 acre
feet of water. Project irrigators can now expect an
estimated allocation of 55,000 acre feet that remains.
Walden, a Hood River Republican,
wasn’t carrying a bucket on Friday, but he shared plans to
carry the concerns of farmers to the White House regarding
the pending early end to the Project irrigation season and
an ongoing struggle with water issues in the Basin.
As vehicles continued to line up at a
field in Merrill Friday morning, Walden told the H&N he’s
been in communication with White House Chief of Staff Mark
Meadows about the situation.
“They want to be helpful,” Walden said
of the Trump administration. “I’m sending his Chief of Staff
photos and videos. I served with him in the House … we know
each other pretty well.”
He said there needs to be a “reset”
for the Project moving forward, though it’s unclear right
now what that could look like.
“It’s complicated or we would’ve
solved it,” Walden said.
Later on in the rally, Walden promised
to work toward that solution, even as his term comes to an
end in November.
“We ought to have water flowing for
farmers throughout the season,” Walden said from the main
stage. “I’m committed to that.”
Water users may request aid
Klamath Project farmers could
collectively request between $50 million and $75 million in
aid from the U.S. Government to offset the losses that
Project irrigators will face when the water is slated to run
out for use by or before July 1.
Modoc and Siskiyou County officials
are working in with some within the Oregon and California
delegations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help
those impacted in the Klamath Project by the impending end
to their irrigation season.
Michael Kobseff, chair of the Siskiyou
County Board of Supervisors, signed a letter to Secretary of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and
Undersecretary of Farm Production and Conservation Bill
Northey, requesting aid for the Klamath Project.
Klamath Water Users Association
Executive Director Paul Simmons, who drove a tractor in the
convoy, said the water relief programs are a “distant
second” best option for water users. More water is
“There are some existing funds from
the DRA (Drought Response Agency) to do its programs,”
Simmons said. “... but that will be far too little if we
don’t get a lot more water.”
Funding could come from different
sources, including U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“We’re just kind of working on all
fronts for whatever we can do,” Simmons said.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa, (R-Richvale)
said he and Congressman Walden will be fighting to provide
more water for farmers to finish their irrigation season.
LaMalfa, a rice grower south of Chico who represents the
First Congressional District, also drove a tractor in the
20-plus mile convoy.
“This is your water,” LaMalfa told the
crowd. “It doesn’t belong to BOR (Bureau of Reclamation), it
doesn’t belong to NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service),
it doesn’t belong to Fish and Wildlife. It doesn’t belong to
LaMalfa emphasized that the Klamath
Project was created over 100 years ago for one purpose and
that was for agriculture for those who came and settled in
the Basin and were given the opportunity to farm.
“We’ve got about two and a half weeks
to make something happen in this crop year,” he added. “It’s
un-blanking-believable to me.
“We’re going to fight for getting the
full allocation back right now so you guys can at least
finish the season at this meager 40% of your true (water)
“We’re going to take what is
rightfully ours,” LaMalfa added.
LaMalfa said the situation isn’t
farmers versus fish, but farmers versus “crappy” science
used to determine allocation amounts.
Bob Gasser, an organizer of the event,
shared similar sentiments with H&N.
“We need to fix the suckers and the
salmon and the farms,” he said. “The whole community’s on
board. Let’s get something done.”
Klamath County Commissioners Kelley
Minty Morris, Derrick DeGroot and Donnie Boyd each shared
their commitment to helping find solutions for water in the
“This is 20 years later, and we’re
doing the same bull----” Boyd said. “I’m tired of it.
“We are here to help the Klamath Basin
with water problems any way we can.”
Boyd was also candid about COVID-19
precautions such as social distancing while on stage.
Those entering the rally were met by a
disclaimer advising those who entered to do so at their own
risk and encouraging precautions associated with COVID-19. A
list of rules issued to participants of the convoy and rally
earlier in the day also encouraged wearing masks and social
“We’re one big happy family,” Boyd
told the crowd.
“We don’t need to social distance.”
Looking out from the stage, DeGroot
promised younger attendees that commissioners would try to
give them a Basin without water conflicts.
your help, Mr. President,” DeGroot said. “We need your help,
Gasser said if no more water is
available than the Project has, there will be no choice but
to request multimillions of dollars in relief from the
federal government so farmers can irrigate the crops they
Ideally, Gasser said irrigators would
prefer that the Upper Klamath Lake level requirements are
lowered. Gasser said irrigators could meet with U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service on the concept.
“We don’t want the money, we want the
water,” Gasser said. “But if we can’t get the water, we’ve
got to have the money so these guys can survive ‘cause they
will not survive with all that investment out there and no
way to pay off the investment.”
For Travis and Erin Buller, that
investment was planting an alfalfa crop thinking they would
get irrigation water.
Travis knelt down to plant one of the
crosses in a field behind the rally stage on Friday
afternoon, as his wife, Erin Buller, and their children,
Hallie, Ellie, and Isaiah looked on.
The family didn’t receive any water to
irrigate this spring, and the cross Travis Buller planted
stands to represent the possibility of losing their farm. It
is among 2,000 other white crosses planted in the same field
as a demonstration to represent farms and businesses lost,
and those likely to be lost as irrigators in the Klamath
Project face an early end to the irrigation season by or
The field of crosses served as a
backdrop for the rally and will serve as a statement to the
local impact on farmers this summer and a reminder of the
loss and potential loss to agriculture and the community.
Various voices heard
Earlier in the day, rally attendees
like the Bullers were behind the wheels of swathers,
combines, and tractors, while others drove in passenger cars
and pickups with signs and American flags. Spectators set up
lawn chairs on the sidewalks in Merrill and Klamath Falls,
waiting to show their support for the vehicles rolling by
with waving American flags and signs cheering them on.
Don Russell, a former chairman of the
Klamath Water Users Association, shared his thoughts on the
current water scenario on Friday morning as spectators
waited for trucks to roll through the downtown Merrill area.
“I hope the citizens of this Basin
realize — we’ll be nice today,” Russell told an H&N
reporter, “but there’s going to come a time when we’re not
going to be nice. We’re going to be like the people at the
Alamo. We’re going to make a decision.
“There comes a time when enough’s
enough,” he added. “Oregon leadership should be forewarned
that we’ve had enough.”
For the most part, the message of
spectators was to cheer on farmers and ranchers drawing
attention to the pending early end to the irrigation season
by or before July.
Kendra Rupert traveled to downtown
Klamath Falls from Tulelake Friday to support farmers,
particularly her dad who grows potatoes and wheat. Rupert
stood downtown with a sign that said, “Every farm matters”
while she waited for her dad to pass by.“It’s an emotional
thing because it’s so big,” Rupert said. “Just happy to show
support in any way that we can.”
The more than 20-miles-long stretch of
tractors continued downtown, as spectators who had waited in
the heat for their arrival waved flags and cheered support.
“It’s so great,” Rupert said. “I’m
speechless of how much support there is,” she added. “I was
worried that there wouldn’t be people on the streets, and so
it’s nice to see that it’s not just the farming community,
that the whole Basin has each other’s backs.”
Heather Tramp, executive director of
Klamath County Chamber of Commerce, also came out to the
downtown convoy to reflect the Chamber’s support for
“Agriculture is one of our biggest
industries and every business in Klamath relies on it,”
“Whether you’re a restaurant downtown
or a retailer or tax preparer … your business relies on the
“We need that industry to be strong,”
she added. “We need to protect those jobs.”
Joey Gentry, a Klamath Tribes member
who has also farmed hemp, held up a sign that stated “Let’s
unite in the fight to save our fish and farmers.”
Gentry said she doesn’t feel her voice
and the voices of others in the tribal community are being
heard on the matter.
“We would never be allowed to shut
down the town,” Gentry said.
She took up farming to walk a mile in
farmers’ shoes, adding that she wanted to learn about
agricultural practices that used less water.
“I just want our ag community to be
better stewards,” Gentry said. “I want peace in our
communities. I want our fish to thrive and I want our
farmers to thrive.
“I don’t think there’s a person in the
world that doesn’t empathize with the plight of our
farmers,” she added. “We hold farmers in a hero worship
status. We all care. Every tribal member cares, but we can’t
let our fish go extinct.”
Klamath Tribes member Jeff Mitchell
also came out to the convoy, and set up signs supporting the
fish outside the Klamath County Courthouse.
“You’ve got to protect all the
communities in the Basin,” Mitchell said. “I think the
communities need to work together better to be more
Mixed emotions for all
Gasser said the day was full of mixed
emotions, knowing many farmers would prefer to be farming
versus holding a rally.
“Days like today, you really
appreciate the community that we live in because they came
out strong, with the same message: Let’s do better. Let’s
fix it,” Gasser said.
“It was a happy moment seeing
everybody get together but it was sad that we had to get
“Everybody you saw smile today —
They’re going to be worried about how to pay their bills,”
But the support that swelled for
farmers won’t be forgotten, according to Gasser.
“We will always remember how the
community came out to support us today,” he said.
For more information on the event, go
online at https://shutdownfedup.org/.
H&N Reporters Kurt Liedtke and Becca
Robbins contributed to this report