- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2001

Thousands of protesters are flocking to Klamath Falls on the Oregon-California border as federal officials once again prepare to cut off water to area farms and divert it to protect endangered salmon and sucker fish.
Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton allowed a limited water release earlier this summer, but the California and Oregon farmers have exhausted that in replenishing scorched fields and pastures.
Federal officials expect to turn off the water Thursday while more than a dozen federal law enforcement officers guard canal headgates.
Angry farmers forcibly opened the headgates several times this summer before Mrs. Norton on July 24 ordered the release of 24 billion gallons of water, or about 75,000 acres of water 1 foot deep.
Farmers and residents say the water war is far from over and aren't giving assurances the headgates won't be forcibly opened again before the growing season is over in mid-October.
"If [federal officials] think we are going away, they are sadly mistaken. This is just the beginning. This is war against the environmentalists and the Endangered Species Act," said horse rancher Jon Hall.
Environmentalists oppose giving water to farmers and instead want the government to buy up the farmland.
When Mrs. Norton allowed the water release, environmentalists filed a lawsuit against the government, insisting that the water bypass the farms and be allowed to travel downstream to a wildlife refuge containing endangered birds.
Historically, farmers have not taken all of the water and have allowed a sizable amount to pass on to the refuge. Despite one of the worst droughts on record, the farmers continued to share this limited release with the reserve.
"Not until the water was turned on by Gale Norton did [the environmentalists] start screaming we need water in the refuge," Mr. Hall said.
"They call themselves conservationists, but we are the true conservationists. They are responsible for the deaths of thousands of animals that depend on the canal," he said.
As many as 12,000 supporters attended a June protest called the Bucket Brigade, and organizers say as many as 20,000 people from across the country are expected to arrive tomorrow.
Thousands of 18-wheelers will parade through the town tomorrow morning in convoys from California, Montana and Nevada. They will be escorted by 250 men and women on horseback who are calling themselves the U.S. Freedom Cavalry, Klamath Regiment, Headgates Detachment.
The trucks will carry food and supplies for the farmers and two 12-foot-high metal water buckets to symbolize their struggle this summer.
"When they put a fish and a bird in front of human life, this is something we need to fight for, and I draw the line at Klamath Falls," Mr. Hall said, referring to four firefighters killed in Washington last month when water in a stream containing endangered species reportedly could not be used to battle a forest fire.
Organizers promise the protest will be peaceful.
Jeff McCracken, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation, said the demonstrators to date have "conducted themselves admirably. … Hopefully, things will continue to be peaceful, and those folks will get the publicity they are looking for, and we can move forward to find a solution so this never happens again."
Klamath Falls resident and small-business owner Cheryl Dryer said the July water release to farmers was "too little, too late" and is beginning to have a trickle-down effect on businesses throughout the community. "We're not getting the business we normally do from our farmers," Miss Dryer said. "People just don't matter anymore."
Since July 4, as many as 300 protesters have camped by the canal headgates. The demonstrators have been ordered out of the area by city officials by the end of this month.


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