Fears of a confrontation between law enforcement and right-wing militia supporters over the control of water in the drought-stricken American west have been sparked by protests at Klamath Falls in Oregon, reports The Guardian. 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 area by unilaterally opening the headgates of a reservoir. Among the current protesters at Klamath Falls are individuals who have been involved in similar actions over two decades, including an illegal release of water at the same reservoir in 2001. In May, the federal Bureau of Reclamation announced that there would be no further release of water from the reserves in the Klamath Basin for irrigators downstream, who rely on the Klamath Project water infrastructure along the Oregon-California border.
This year, amid the severe drought, the measure is being taken in accordance with the Endangered Species Act, to ensure the survival of two species of suckerfish whose last remaining habitats are in the reservoirs. In order to keep enough water in the system to ensure their survival, water must be denied to those who rely on it downstream, including both farmers and tribes who depend on fishing. While the protesters claim to represent the interests of farmers, they have been disavowed by agricultural leaders, including Ben DuVal, president of the Klamath Water Users Association, who told the Sacramento Bee that the protesters were “idiots who have no business being here” and who were using the crisis as “a soapbox to push their agenda.”