KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) — Two farmers with ties to anti-government activist Ammon Bundy have purchased land by a shut-off irrigation canal in Oregon that would normally deliver water to a massive federal irrigation project along the California-Oregon border and have set up a protest encampment there, Jefferson Public Radio reports.
The move comes after federal regulators shut off all water deliveries from the project’s main “A Canal” due to extreme drought and the need to balance the water demands of farmers with threatened and endangered fish species in the Upper Klamath Lake and Klamath River.
The last time water was substantially cut off to farmers, in 2001, demonstrators forced open the canal’s head gates three times before federal marshals arrived and stayed all summer. They also held a “bucket brigade” that attracted national media attention and stirred calls by some in the Republican Party for a re-examination of the Endangered Species Act.
The two men who purchased the land near the canal, Dan Nielsen and Grant Knoll, have set up an information center at the site along with local members of the Oregon chapter of People's Rights Network, a group founded by Bundy last year, the radio station reported.
The group first organized in Idaho in response to COVID-19 mask rules and other government-mandated safety regulations and has grown in its scope. Bundy, who was acquitted for his role in a 42-day armed standoff with the U.S. government in 2016 at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon, is also running for Idaho governor in 2022.
Nielsen and Knoll are both landowners who receive irrigation water from the project. Knoll is also a member of the Klamath Irrigation District board of directors, which oversees a majority of Klamath Project land.
Nielsen told JPR he and Knoll decided to buy the property so they have a place to gather where they can’t be “run off” by the federal government.
“The only thing separating us from the headgates is a chain link fence,” Nielsen said, adding that he's in regular contact with Bundy. “It’s good access, all right.”
Ben DuVal, president of the Klamath Water Users Association and a farmer in Tulelake, California, told the station that he's aware of the “water crisis info center” but worries the encampment at the head gates could cause problems.
“I don’t want anybody to do anything stupid or … you know, cause a problem, a civil problem," he told JPR. "That’s just not going to be productive in the long-run. But, people also have a right to protest.”
A demonstration is planned for Thursday.