LOS ANGELES – At the northern edge of California, a ruckus is brewing over whether water should go to one of two endangered species: the suckerfish or local farmers.
"These farmers have farmed this land for nearly 100 years," Rep. Greg Walden, R-Calif., said at a House Resources Committee meeting in the town of Klamath, Calif. "They are veterans of World War I and II. They were promised water for life if they’d settle the land and feed the nation. Now it’s being taken away. It’s another broken promise."
There are 1,400 family farms on the California-Oregon border, but because of the endangered suckerfish, every drop of available water is being diverted from farmlands. Fields are drying up and blowing away. Some 250,000 pounds of food have to be hauled into local food banks, which are depleted every day.
When the committee came to Klamath to hear residents’ complaints, they heard plenty — 3,500 people jammed the Klamath Fairgrounds in what was one of the largest congressional meetings in U.S. history.
"If an adequate economic relief package is not forthcoming, the long-term damage may be so severe that the people who are resources of this community can’t survive," Klamath farmer John Crawford said.
The committee members who showed up — all Republicans — said it was a perfect opportunity to take a closer look at the Endangered Species Act, which they say helps animals and plants at the expense of human behings.
And even for farmers, it’s not just about vegetables and fish, Tulelake High School Principal Sharron Molder said.
"We don’t just raise potatoes, horseradish and onions — we grow kids," she said.
The Oregon Natural Resources Council has proposed that the government buy out the farms for $4,000 per acre. Farmers didn’t to like that idea or the one pushed by the Bush administration idea — $20 million in emergency funds, which Congress will vote on this week.
"I don’t want the government taking care of me, that’s not what America’s all about," Klamath farmer Adolf Drazile said.
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