Water: The Lifeblood of the Community

Ron Greenbank

I have grown up in Tulelake like many others. My mother’s grandfather homesteaded near Olene, Oregon (near Klamath Falls), in the late 1800s and her father homesteaded in Tulelake, California, in 1938. My father’s dad came to the basin in 1944 with the Bureau of Reclamation as a dragline operator helping complete the project in Coppock Bay and the Panhandle. The only years I have been away were the years I spent in college. I graduated from Shasta College in Redding, California, with an associate’s degree in biology and graduated from Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomy.

Upon graduation I came home for the summer looking for employment. At that time I did not know where I might find a job. I drove a grain truck that fall and interviewed for a job that was available at Newell Grain Growers, where I am still employed.

Growing up in the Basin, I was always aware of the ups and downs in agriculture. Price changes, weather changes, and changes in technology were and are commonplace. Living with those all those changing things was just a part of daily life.

Through the years water has always been the consistent lifeblood of the community. We were all surprised when the Short-nose and Lost River suckers were declared endangered in 1988, since so many of us were aware of the huge runs of fish in the rivers that empty into Klamath Lake. We were even more surprised when the environmentalists tried to do away with farming in the lease lands in 1992.

Little did we know then that a fight for our very culture was underway.

When I received word that the water would be shut off in 2001, it was devastating news. As manager of a farmer-owned cooperative, I immediately wondered how we might stay in business. Many days of attending rallies and meetings were followed by many sleepless nights. Knowing that without water, potatoes and onions would probably not be grown, we prepared much more grain seed than normal. As expected, seeded acreage was much greater because most of the potato and onion ground was also planted to grain. Surprisingly, the quality of the crop was better than expected, but the yields were only a fraction of normal. Even with a large increase in planted acreage, the crop delivered to the association’s elevators was approximately one-half that of a normal crop year. Since our fixed costs remain fairly constant, our operating cost per ton of grain increased dramatically, further reducing the returns to growers on a substantially smaller crop.

Grain Elevator

Our business, like many others, is still struggling to overcome the problems created by the water shutoff. Bankers have been reluctant to lend to growers because of the uncertainty of the water supply. Renewing contracts for grain, potato, and onion production have been jeopardized. The lack of money flowing through the local economy has been very apparent. School enrollment has declined and employment in the farm sector has also declined.

I have been blessed to raise my children in the same area where my parents and I were raised.

Where you wave at almost every car you pass on the roadóbecause you know almost every one you pass.

Where you can walk out of your house and see a flock of geese fly over or land in a nearby field or a bald eagle pass.

Where red-tailed hawks and barn owls nest and roost in your trees and prairie falcons sit atop the power poles.

Where you see the ground being worked in the spring to plant the new crop, with the hope of a bountiful crop in the fall.

Where on cold summer nights you hear the pickups scramble to the pumps to start the sprinklers that protect the potatoes from frost.

Where the combines harvest the grain and the bulkers harvest potatoes and onions.

Where the smells of the area from the Tulelake marsh, the potato cellars, the mint, hay and onion fields and many more, become a part of your life.

Where you see not only your own children grow up, but also those of your friends and neighbors you have known your whole life.

These are just a few of the things I for one have come to love about this area. I’m sure every member of the community can list an abundance of reasons they love this area.

Veterans and their spouses who were willing to die for our way of life pioneered the Klamath Project.

When it comes under attack by those wielding pseudo-science and purely political agendas under the guise of the ESA (Endangered Species Act) who live hundreds of miles away, I know where my allegiance will remain.

It has become apparentónot only in our area but also in many othersóthat the ESA is being used, not to protect species, but to destroy small rural communities.

Activists have steamrollered so many things through with little scientific study, that they only make fools of themselves to anyone willing to study and consider their science.

We must stop self-proclaimed experts from enforcing the ESA for their personal social agendas.