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Drought and a Western

Legacy of US water policies pits farmers, native Americans, and environmentalists against one another

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Seen from 1,000 feet in Rich Steinbock's slowly circling Cessna, the Klamath Basin seems to have it all: Six national wildlife refuges. Meandering rivers. Irrigation canals bringing precious water to productive farms and ranches. Rural communities spread out around a small city that has never seen a traffic jam. Crater Lake National Park to the north. Snow-capped Mt. Shasta to the south.

Below, white pelicans, Canada geese, and hundreds of other migrating waterfowl circle and settle into one of the most important stops along the Pacific flyway.

But all is not as peaceful as it seems down there along the Oregon-California border.

Near Tulelake, Calif., Steve and Nancy Kandra - third generation farmers - hope and pray their 1,000 acres don't blow away as dust. Like the Kandras, hundreds of farmers here wonder whether they'll make it through what may become a drought this summer, especially since Uncle Sam has turned off the spigot on most of their irrigation water.

An hour or so north in Chiloquin, Ore., Klamath tribal leader Joe Hobbs, whose people have been here for thousands of years, watches as the fish, deer, and other wildlife they've traditionally relied on dwindle away with the water that sustained their habitats. It seems one more insult to a native American people who were pressured to give up their land under federal edict.

And in between, environmentalist and former high school biology teacher Wendell Wood stands along the shore of Klamath Lake and worries that the hundreds of bald eagles who come here from Alaska and Montana - the largest number in the lower 48 states - will not make it through another winter as the water level in the lake drops to where the fish and ducks the eagles feed on become scarce.


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