FThe ears of a confrontation between law enforcement and right-wing militia supporters over water control in the drought-stricken US West have been sparked by protests in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Protesters affiliated with right-wing anti-government activist Ammon Bundy’s People’s Rights Network are threatening to break a deadlock over water management in the region by unilaterally opening the valves on a reservoir.

The protest rekindled memories of not only recent standoffs with federal agencies – including one led by Bundy in eastern Oregon in 2016 – but a longer history of anti-government unrest in southern Oregon. Oregon and northern California, dating back to 2000 and beyond.

The region is a hotbed of militias and anti-government activity and also hit by the mega-drought that has hit the American West and caused unrest in the farming community as conflicts over water become more intense. Among the current protesters in Klamath Falls are individuals who have themselves been involved in similar actions for two decades, including an illegal dumping of water into the same reservoir in 2001.

In May, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation announced that there would be no more discharge of water from the Klamath Basin reserves for downstream irrigators, which rely on the Klamath Project’s water infrastructure along the border. Oregon-California.

Later in the month, two Oregon irrigators, Grant Knoll and Dan Neilsen, began occupying land adjacent to the main canal gates that carry water to downstream farmers and Native American tribal groups, such as the Yurok. , which depend on water to “flush” the river for the benefit of salmon hatchlings.

Knoll and Nielsen, along with members of the People’s Rights Network, which engaged in militant anti-mask protests in neighboring Idaho, began pitching a tent on the property which they dubbed a ” information on the water crisis “.

Grant Knoll and Dan Nielsen set up a large tent on land adjacent to the main canal entrance gates.
Grant Knoll and Dan Nielsen set up a large tent on land adjacent to the main canal entrance gates. Photograph: Dave Killen / AP

They also told a number of media outlets that they were ready to restore the water flow, even at the cost of a confrontation with the federal government, with Knoll telling Jefferson Public Radio last Monday: “We’re going to open the water and have a dead end.

Also on the property is a large metal bucket, smeared with anti-government slogans, which is a memento of a 2001 confrontation at the same location. In July, 100 farmers, including Knoll and Nielsen, used an 8-inch-wide irrigation pipe to bypass the front door, sending water into the canal. That year, the farmers’ action was followed by other protest actions, such as a horse charge emblazoned with the American flag, similar to the one that took place on Bundy’s ranch during this family’s clash. with the federal authorities in 2014.

The confrontation was only defused after appeals were made to farmers in the wake of the September 11 World Trade Center attacks.

Then as now, the reduced flows were partly focused on environmental issues.

This year, amid the severe drought, action is being taken under the Endangered Species Act, to ensure the survival of two sucker species whose last remaining habitats are in the reservoirs.

In order to keep enough water in the system for their survival, water must be withheld from those who depend on it downstream, including farmers and tribes who depend on fishing.

Endangered coho salmon are likely to suffer from the lack of water, as will migratory birds later in the season whose refuges have dried up. But previous court rulings have determined that the interests of those upstream should come first, including the Klamath tribes, for whom suction cups have spiritual significance.

While the protesters claim to represent the interests of farmers, they have been disowned by agricultural leaders, including Ben DuVal, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, who told the Sacramento Bee that the protesters were “idiots with nothing. to do here ”, who used the crisis as“ a soapbox to advance their agenda ”.

Whether or not DuVal speaks for the majority of farmers, there is no sign that the small protest so far is spreading like the 2001 anti-government wave, which saw thousands of protesters protest before the gates broke. .

And while the protesters’ placards promise “Ammon Bundy to come”, their leader has so far not made the trip to Klamath camp from neighboring Idaho, where he recently applied for the post of governor.