After farmers were told this year that they wouldn’t receive any water from the lake, a small contingent of land owners formed an alliance with People’s Rights, a group backed by militant anti-government activist Ammon Bundy.
That contingent has set up a red-and-white striped circus tent on private property next to the federal irrigation gates in Klamath Falls, Ore., and is threatening to take over the plumbing works, releasing water in a symbolic act that has the potential to turn into an armed conflict.
There is a feeling inside the tent, and in the fields, that nobody at the federal level is listening to the concerns of farmers as their lives and legacies deteriorate.
“I lost my next generation on my ranch,” said farmer Tracey Liskey, whose only son left the farm after the last water shutoff. “They took the water away, and he said, ‘Dad, I’ve got to go find a job I can depend on.’”
His son moved to Boise and became a diesel mechanic.
Liskey, a friend of Barnes, who has excavated many of the ponds on his property, said he agrees with the people in the tent but thinks they have gone too far toward the “radical right.”
“When you start bringing Bundy in and that kind of stuff, you’ve lost what you’re protesting, because he isn’t us,” Liskey said. “We don’t want outsiders trying to come in and run their politics on our issues.”
Barnes’ and Liskey’s rearing ponds, part of a complex called Gone Fishing, where Barnes raised tropical aquarium fish until that market crashed in 2008, have been so successful that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with them in 2015 after an earlier pilot program. It has plans to expand the operation with the hopes of eventually releasing 60,000 c’waam and koptu into the lake each year at an age when they are old enough to survive the difficult conditions.
“I really don’t care about the sucker [fish] myself, but it has control of my water,” Liskey said.