(Merrill, Oregon) – Klamath Irrigation Project family farmers and ranchers, along with community leaders in the rural areas of the Klamath Basin are issuing a “Call to Unity” for supporters to join them in a water rally later this month in southern Oregon. The planned two-hour tractor convoy will start at 10:00 a.m. on May 29th in Merrill, Oregon. The route will wind its way through Klamath Project farmlands, proceed down Klamath Falls’ Main Street and end up in a local farmer’s field near Midland, Oregon.

“We’re asking farm supporters far and wide to join our movement,” said Bob Gasser, a local businessman who is helping to organize the event. “It’s not going to be limited to just tractors and farm equipment. You can fire up your gravel truck, your logging truck, your pickup truck or even your car, and join us, too.”

The convoy is intended to draw attention to a multi-decade federal water management scheme that has increasingly moved water away from farming and ranching and towards the perceived needs of fish protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“We want to draw public attention to the need to fix the flows and save our farms,” said Mr. Gasser. Hopefully, this will also draw the attention of President Trump and his administration. We know how committed he is in securing America’s food supply and we need him to know that his goal is in danger here in the Basin.”

For 20 years, federal agencies have been managing the Klamath River by placing priority on salmon and sucker fish populations protected by the ESA. For 20 years, the agencies have used stored water that was intended for local irrigators to set artificially high lake levels (to stabilize sucker populations in Upper Klamath Lake) and send an increasingly large amount of water downstream (intended to flush disease out of the river).

“Unfortunately, the fish populations have not increased, while the local farming population continues to shrink,” said Mr. Gasser.  “We can fix this problem, but we need our political leaders to hear our voice.”

The 2020 irrigation season is the most challenging water year facing Klamath Project irrigation districts and contractors in at least two decades, if not ever.  Unfortunately, this scenario is becoming the norm.  Federal agency decisions threaten to bankrupt family farms, and send economic and psychological shockwaves throughout every local sector that has been dependent on agriculture for over a century.

As a first step, community leaders have organized the route for the tractor convoy on May 29th. The rally will end in a local farmer’s field, where vehicles will park, and each driver will plant a symbolic white cross in the ground.

“This symbolic act will honor those who farmed before us, including the unfortunate families who no longer operate because of the increasingly uncertain water supply,” said Scott Seus, whose family farms near Tulelake, California. “For the remainder of this summer, those crosses will provide a grim reminder to passersby of the fate that awaits our rural communities if things don’t change.”

Event organizers are asking that residents show their support for local farmers by joining this unifying rally at the lineup to start the convoy in Merrill. Alternatively, supporters can join the convoy as it passes through downtown Klamath Falls later in the morning. Convoy participants will plant crosses provided by event organizers in support of this effort.

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