- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

A report that racism against Indians and a lack of leadership are preventing a resolution to a Western water war has outraged many California and Oregon residents.
The report was authored by Oregon State University and the University of California after the federal government cut off irrigation water to hundreds of farmers in the Klamath valley to protect the endangered sucker fish and coho salmon.
The report said there is a lack of "visionary leadership" to craft a solution.
Angry farmers reacted to the water shutoff last summer by forcing open the canal system on several occasions and federal marshals were called in to guard the head gates. Crops and livestock were lost and many farms went bankrupt.
The Klamath tribes view the fish as sacred gifts, and have banded with environmental groups to keep the spigots to area farms dry.
The draft report under review said there is an atmosphere of "farmers vs. Indians" and that a strain of racism is running "quietly beneath the surface."
Tribal members have reported being shunned or "treated badly" and say fund raising for Indian events has dropped dramatically.
Critics of the report, however, say racism is not a factor.
"In the West, it doesn't matter what color your skin is if you are fighting over water," said one Westerner.
Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said the racism charges have "generated a lot of controversy and local folks don't share that view."
Mr. Keppen said the racism hype is seeded in one event that occurred Dec. 1, when three men drove through Chiloquin, Ore., home of the Klamath tribes offices, firing shotguns at street signs and yelling "sucker lovers."
Mr. Keppen cited the timing of that incident just before the report was released Dec. 19 as a factor in playing the race card.
"A lot of farmers are upset that is how this is being characterized, but it's not race it's a simple matter of having no water and seeing the family farms slip away from them," Mr. Keppen said.
The water shutoff cost more than 2,000 jobs, about 3.5 percent of the area's total employment.
The Oregonian reported that farms lost about $71 million in revenue without the water, and the loss to the regional economy totaled about $134 million, about 3.2 percent of the total.
Opponents to farming say the land should be purchased by the state or federal government and retired from agriculture. Farmers say the solution has to be more flexible and revisions in the Endangered Species Act considered.
"It seems there should be a way of taking care of the fish without taking farm land out of production. At some point, if you take enough land out of production, the water project is not feasible," Mr. Keppen said.
The water project was established by Congress to reclaim desert land by constructing federal irrigation projects and reservoirs so the land could be converted to agricultural use and made available to homesteaders. The government gave preferential treatment to veterans, and the area was settled primarily by World War I and World War II veterans.
Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton allowed a limited water release earlier this summer, but the farmers quickly exhausted the short supply in replenishing scorched fields and pastures.
Environmentalists filed a lawsuit to block the limited supply from going to farmers at all, and said the water should instead 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 their limited release with the reserve.


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