Siskiyou and Klamath County leaders: Devastation, desperation
for Klamath Basin agriculture
Agriculture is at the core of the economies, lifestyle and
culture of Klamath, Modoc and Siskiyou Counties. So is the
wildlife that co-exists with our ranches and farms. This proud
tradition is under threat. Sadly, the general public appears to
have no idea what is happening, or how bad and unnecessary it
On May 7, the boards of commissioners (Klamath) and supervisors
(Modoc and Siskiyou) held a joint meeting, the first of its kind
in anyone’s memory. We wanted to send a unified message to
Washington, D.C., Salem, and Sacramento, about the dire
circumstances facing the Klamath Irrigation Project and the need
for immediate action.
Our agenda was limited. Going into it, we thought the meeting
would be wrapped up in less than an hour. We expected to simply
review two letters drafted by our staffs for the three counties
and jointly approve them and know that we had done something
We did that. Our letters support disaster assistance for farms
and ranches and commercial and tribal fishing interests. Our
letters call for collaboration in solving the Klamath Basin’s
But it was the unexpected events that dominated the meeting,
which lasted over two hours. One item on the agenda allowed for
local water managers to provide an update on water conditions.
We certainly got the update, and in the process we learned
firsthand what is really happening to real people.
The recent Herald
and News coverage captures the
formal business conducted at this meeting, but the undersigned
would like to expand on events that unfolded at the meeting
telling the powerful and tragic story of how our community is
scrambling to prepare for a devastating summer.
Parts of our meeting evolved into emotional conversations
between local elected officials and farmers, water managers and
business owners in the audience. We heard first-hand accounts of
the hardship, the complexity of compounding complications, and
the heroic efforts of farm operators, water managers, and local
business who are trying to hold it together. These hard-working
producers — through no fault of their own — will see zero
Klamath Project water supply that was specifically developed to
support their operations. Imagine if someone took all of your
blood and told you: “Just deal with it.” It’s that bad.
The most striking visual of the day was the map prepared by
Tulelake Irrigation District staff, showing each ownership
parcel in the district, color-coded to indicate what types of
crops — potatoes, mint, onions, garlic, horseradish, grain —
would get groundwater, and which would go fallow, without water.
The fallowed land — color-coded orange — was, by far, the
dominant shade. And we know that some other districts are in
even tougher shape than TID.
Based on what we heard, it’s clear that our communities will
suffer economically this summer. We know what to expect; it
happened once before in 2001. Crops will wither. Workers will be
laid off. Businesses will fail. Dust storms will carry away the
topsoil. The ditches will go dry, and the critters that live on
the ditch banks will disappear.
One of the most powerful statements we heard at our meeting was
made by a Tulelake farmer who said the nights were already
eerily quiet. No “tick-tick-tick” of the sprinklers. No sounds
of birds, crickets or frogs.
It will take years to recover, if we can recover.
Will there be a single additional coho salmon or endangered
sucker saved as a result of this pain? We don’t know, and I’m
not sure anyone else does.
We would wager that everyone in that room
wants to see those fish recover. To that end, our three county
boards took action to promote collaboration up and down the
We also stated our objections to an
April 16 letter sent by some parties to the federal government
that requested hundreds of millions of federal dollars for
various actions or projects, with little backing explanation or
justification. One of our key objections was the proposal’s call
for a massive retirement of irrigation water rights, at a time
when more than 90% of the water in the Upper Basin is already
being dedicated to the needs of two fish species.
Some have mistakenly assumed our opposition to the proposal
equates to opposing water for national wildlife refuges. Nothing
could be further from the truth. It is a tragedy that the
refuges will go dry this year, and hundreds of species will
suffer because their water has been lost to single-species
management policies. The April 16 request for funding did not
say a word about water for national wildlife refuges. Again, we
objected to asking the federal government to sponsor the
retirement of irrigation water rights. How does buying out farms
when the farms don’t have any water help to solve any problem?
We have been meeting over the past several years with the same
parties who wrote the April 16 letter. We have put time and
money into that effort. We believe others shared our goal of
collaborative and well-planned coordination to make the best use
of resources for all of the basin’s important interests. No one
is required to receive the counties’ consent before requesting
federal funds, but the promotion of the April 16 letter implied
a broad consensus. We believe that dramatic and very public
proposals that affect the counties’ interests should not come as
a surprise to the counties.
We will continue to work in a collaborative manner to bring
large-scale solutions to the entire Klamath watershed. In the
meantime, we grieve for our agricultural communities and our
— Michael Kobseff and Brandon
Criss are members of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors.
Ned Coe and Geri Byrne are members of the Modoc County Board of
Supervisors and Derrick DeGroot is a Klamath County
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C.
section 107, any copyrighted material
herein is distributed without profit or
payment to those who have expressed a
prior interest in receiving this
information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only. For more
information go to: