Convoy raising money for Oregon farmers denied irrigation water |

Convoy raising money for Oregon farmers denied irrigation water

MALIBU, Calif. (AP) – With the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean as a backdrop, a convoy set off Wednesday on what was dubbed a ”Trail of Tears” to support farmers denied federal water in Oregon.

A hodgepodge of groups opposed to government land-use and environmental protection policies were taking part in the effort to raise money and support for about 1,400 ranchers and farmers in Klamath Falls, Ore.

Bounded by surf shops, pricey hillside mansions and the movie star enclave of the Malibu Colony, about a dozen people stood on a sidewalk near the beach and waved signs with such slogans as ”No farms – no food!”

The California-Oregon border region has relied on federal irrigation water for a century. But in April, in the middle of a drought, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cut off water to about 200,000 acres of farmland to meet water requirements for endangered shortnosed suckers and Lost River suckers living in the lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

A federal judge denied a request by farmers to overturn the scientific report, required under the Endangered Species Act, that forced the shutoff.

As their fields dried, protesters repeatedly opened the headgates of the federal water project at the south end of the lake. The area is now guarded.

”If it comes down to a mudfish or a person, I kinda lean towards the human being,” said Vernon Padgett, a retired doctor from Calabasas who farmed tobacco in Maryland as a teen-ager. He bought a shovel and a plastic bucket for $20 to aid the cause.

Bob King, a 71-year-old alfalfa farmer from Klamath Falls, wore a T-shirt saying ”Let Freedom Ring” commemorating the July headgate protest. He estimates the lack of water will cost him $80,000.

”It’s drastic,” he said of the impact on Klamath Falls farmers. ”A lot of these, they’re operating on a shoestring, like the younger people. And the older people, a lot of ’em are renting their ground out. This is their money for survival. And they cannot pay taxes this year, they cannot rent their ground out this year, and it’s devastating.”

Three convoys from California, Nevada and Montana plan to unite in Klamath Falls on Tuesday – about the time that water released to farmers in July is expected to run out.

Organizers in Montana expect a caravan of about 100 vehicles to leave Kalispell Saturday morning.

Jane Strash, the caravan coordinator, said she expects others to join the procession as it moves into Idaho, gathering supporters, money and food for the farmers.

”Ideally … we’d like to be able to raise enough money to help pay off the mortgages on these farms or to bring the homes that are ongoing into foreclosure up until at least next spring,” she said. ”This is a terrible thing in the land of plenty that you have to bring food to farmers.”

Grant Gerber, an Elko, Nev., lawyer, representing some Klamath Falls farmers, said supporters hoped to raise $20 million for the farmers.

”We are not going to let those widows at Klamath lose their farms,” he said. ”They lost over $200,000 this year because they didn’t have any crops. The federal government has broken faith with the farmers of America.”

On the Net:

Klamath Waters Users Association:

BlueRibbon Coalition:

Klamath Project:

Endangered Species Act:

Interior Department:

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