Sunday, June 23, 2013

Water for hay and potatoes

Keno (pop. 510) has a Mormon church at one end of town and a little store at the other. Between them lie a school, a little strip mall, and a Quonset hut that houses a gas station/taqueria. This little tour of Keno takes about 90 seconds. Everything is on the main road, Oregon Route 66.

On Sunday the church lot is full of cars. But it's the store that draws me in. Mile 58, time to refuel.

Before leaving Ashland I googled Keno and verified the presence of a store. Thanks to whoever made a community web site listing all the businesses in town. The message is clear; you can spend your dollars here. The much larger town of Klamath Falls must be where people shop, by default. In these rural areas running a business is tough and stores go out of business all the time. As it happens the  Keno Store is still in business and yes! open Sundays; my luck is holding.

You can't really overstate the importance of food and water at this point. It means bypassing Klamath Falls, an extra 11 miles to the east. Cutting off two sides of the triangle and proceeding toward the California border.

The inventory seems to consist mostly of snacks, every kind of snack imaginable. Types I've never seen before, like chile-lime flavored sunflower seeds. A whole display of multi-colored sugary things in plastic bags. They also stock fishing supplies, lures and flies and nightcrawlers in a little fridge in back. Inside are stacks of little white styrofoam containers.

In contrast, the deli menu looks promising! Though I'll pass on the corn dogs and potato wedges and fried chicken parts. Heat lamp deli food, a most bizarre species, ... What is their purpose, exactly? How many actually get eaten? The locals go for the Klamath River Sub sandwich and I follow their lead. Augmented by huge bag of Fritos. And water. No need to live on snacks and beg water from farmers. At least not in the next 50 miles.

Behind the register, a hand-lettered sign: We No Longer Accept Checks from Klamath Falls And Outlying Areas. If you're from Klamath Falls, bring cash. Leave those rubber checks at home.

I eat half the sandwich, stuff the remainder into the Camelbak and head south on Keno-Worden Road. The lush pine forests of the Cascades are replaced with sagebrush in a semi-arid climate.

Immediately it becomes clear that while the Klamath Basin is flat, it is a hospitable place for wind. Lots and lots of wind, with no natural barriers. It's definitely blowing in my face, making invisible hills out of flat and rolling terrain. Fortunately the landscape is beautiful and distracting.

Where it's not sagebrush there are farms and irrigation equipment, horse and cattle ranches. Rounding a bend a large handmade sign sits at a driveway: Stop the Klamath Dam Scams! There's not enough water for everyone, it seems. Back in Keno I was ecstatic over a quart of Aquafina. These folks demand a share of the river, forever. Vague memories of a court battle a decade ago over the Klamath River water. Wasn't that decided? The signs look pretty new.

There will be multiple signs like this, each sincerely proclaiming their angry truth. It's the language of entitlement. We're entitled to as much Klamath River water as we need. To determine what we need, just ask us! There's no shortage of irony when you contemplate the political winds of this area. This is Fox news, Ron Paul for President territory. Yet the farmers and ranchers are basically demanding a share of a public resource, one they do not own. Technically, welfare. Hmm.

Honestly it's obvious what the farmers are doing with the water. They're growing hay and alfalfa for their cattle and horses. They're growing potatoes in a high desert ecosystem.
Irrigated field vs. non-irrigated field, Keno Worden Road
Downstream the Klamath tribes would like the river to have some salmon in it. More than 10% of traditional levels. Sorry but you don't need a PhD to figure out where the balance is. Of course, feel free to disagree. You can attend tomorrow's rally!

Good thing I didn't have to knock on doors to get water along this stretch. After 4 miles on US 97, a major north-south truck route, the next sign is a welcome one.

Has a quiet dignity, don't you think?

1 comment :

  1. Wondering how climate change affects this debate over water in the Klamath Basin? This 2010 report makes interesting reading: