The Social & Pubic Impacts of Ongoing Litigation to Klamath Basin Communities
Social/Public Interest Impacts are the most difficult to measure but may be the most important. They not only affect the current generation of the Klamath Basin, but generations to come.
These are also the issues we tend to avoid, that we are the most uncomfortable to discuss because they hit close to the core of our private lives and our children’s future. The adversarial “versus” mentality (“fish versus farms”, “people versus fish”, or “Tribes versus farmers”) is an unhealthy rhetoric that further creates divide in the Klamath Basin and misrepresents our community to the outside world.
Impacts to the Local Social Fabric and Future Generations
By the nature of their jobs, farmers and ranchers already have severely limited hours outside of work to connect to the broader community like other local residents. If they spend this time disproportionate to any other industry – fighting for their jobs, it’s much harder for them to sit on school boards, or coach their kids’ Little League or soccer teams, or even have dinner with their families. Children of family farmers, ranchers and ag-related businesses feel the strain their parents are experiencing, leaving these children with feelings of anxiety that color everything from how they interact with their peers to how they perform at school.
Perhaps even worse, when our children hear the adversarial rhetoric surrounding the local water conflict, it becomes part of their truth, further polarizing how the next generation who will be working to manage our natural resources and differences within the community. When our children grow-up under this constant state of anxiety, it creates a shadow in their minds regarding our community. This may be one reason that drives many of our best and brightest have chosen to build their lives outside of the Basin.
Still, many local farmers and ranchers continue to volunteer their time for the community and contribute to service groups. If these people lose their jobs and/or move away, so goes a large volunteer base. And as farms and ranches get squeezed, there goes a lot of monetary contribution to local service causes.
Perceptions outside of the Basin
The “water wars” also effect the opinions of those outside our community, resulting in an adverse effect on commercial and residential growth, which in turn inhibits the potential to provide jobs for other non-agricultural industries.
For example, on-the- ground interviews conducted over the past two years by local realtors reveals that many people outside our area have heard of Basin water shortages but do not identify these shortages with irrigated agriculture. Instead, these out-of-town clients seeking to relocate often assume that the local water shortages are directly related to domestic water supplies. Understandably, they are apprehensive about moving to an area that has water supply issues.
The current strain and division also leaves our community open to outside extremists (on both sides of the political spectrum) that could use our situation to further their own causes – (even causes that are unrelated). There are local fears that this could even lead to violence and unrest.
Our Small Rural Communities will bear the brunt of a Project curtailment
By eliminating the sole source of income for family farms that are the backbone of economic and socio-economic activity in our smaller, agriculture-dominated communities, towns like Malin, Merrill and Tulelake may very well cease to exist.
It will bankrupt family farms, destroy the benefits diligent producers have earned through performance of contracts with processors, wipe out the value of real estate, require uprooting of children from their schools, and send economic and psychological shockwaves throughout every local sector that has been dependent on agriculture for over a century.
- People who live in a rural communities are already more at risk for depression. In 2016, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people working in agriculture – including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters – take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation. Studies have also shown Native Americans also have a higher rate of suicide than other ethnic groups. While the added strain of water issues in the Klamath Basin may not directly cause a person to take his or her life, it’s hard not imagine that it could certainly strain their emotional and mental health, which in turn can lead to depression, increased substance abuse and other personal impacts.
The Klamath County Chamber of Commerce and other community leaders continue to be concerned about the societal aspects of the ongoing water issues and believe solutions should be approached from a holistic, community-wide perspective.
The public interest favors preservation, not destruction, of the Klamath agricultural community and environment. Leaders in our community should be looking at the situation strategically and proactively for ways to diffuse situations, develop and/or support solutions that benefit our entire
community, and unite our community to limit any power of outside interest groups and improve
our standing with the rest of the region.