KWUA Board President Ben DuVal’s Speech

Klamath Water Users Association board president, Ben DuVal, talking to the attendees of KWUA's 2022 Annual Meeting
KWUA board president, Ben DuVal, addressing the attendees of the 2022 Annual Meeting

Good Evening, thank you all for coming to Klamath Water Users annual meeting.   I’m Ben DuVal, I farm down by Newell.  Yes, you can drive 45 miles from Klamath and still be in the Project.

I’ve served as Klamath Water Users President for the last year, and what a year it has been.   I’m glad to see some people from Reclamation here, because last year no one from Reclamation was available to make the zero allocation announcement, so I volunteered.  

Let me tell you, standing right here at the fairgrounds, and telling all of my friends and neighbors that they were zeroed out, that their communities, their farms, their businesses, hell the way of life and for many of us our entire life’s work, didn’t matter… that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  

Frankly, I just can’t understand how our government can take a lake, turn it into productive farmland- farmland, by the way, that uses less water than the old lake evaporated- and now call it good water policy to turn it into a desert.  All in the name of helping fish that, after twenty-five years, haven’t recovered which shows us that they don’t need this kind of “help.” 

Yes, the Klamath Project is becoming a man-made desert.  Anyone who doesn’t believe that is more than welcome to get off the main highways and places where wells keep a few fields green to the back roads.  For example, go on a drive through the Tulelake Lease Lands. 

KWUA board president, Ben DuVal, with KWUA executive director, Paul Simmons, and representatives from the Klamath Basin area office of the Bureau of Reclamation.

I’ve had the privilege of taking some farmers from other countries on tours of the Basin, and my favorite thing to do is take them out to the leases and find a field that’s just been worked and let them dig in the dirt.   Every one of them gets a smile from ear to ear when they touch that soil, because they know it’s something special.  

Yet, last year, our bureaucracy didn’t treat it as special.  It took the water away, allowed the soil to parch under the sun, blow in the wind.  There were no crops for wildlife to forage in and certainly no crops for farmers to sell.

But this land is special.   This Project is special.  The Klamath Project should be seen as a model of how to have an incredible balance between wildlife and agriculture.  We should be seen as part of the solution – how to clean Upper Klamath Lake water by moving it through the Project, using the nutrients that naturally occur in the water on our farms, and putting the water back in the river, cleaner than when it was diverted.   It’s the way the Project used to function – all the species and our farms were doing better when we mimicked the natural ecosystem.

My goal as KWUA President is to make the Project part of the solution in this watershed, and to let people know the that drying up the Project is a disaster.    Not just to farms, but people who live here and have to deal with dust storms from what used to be irrigated fields, to have wells going dry because there’s no water in the canal. Finally, it is a disaster to the wildlife and waterfowl that live on our farms and in our canals and ditches. It’s unacceptable to let that happen again, especially in the name of policy that hasn’t worked for 25 years..  

I want to make the Project an integral part of the solution to helping wildlife throughout the Project, and the watershed as a whole.  

I want to remind folks that the Project is part of our regional and national food system.  In the last month the President of the United States was on television talking about food shortages, right here in the United States.   At the same time we have fields of winter wheat dying for lack of water here in Klamath.  

It hasn’t been an easy year to be President of this organization.  I went through some pretty dark times this summer watching fields dry up.  I did everything I could, everyone that works for water users did everything they could, and we failed.  Believe me when I say I carry that with me, and it motivates me to not let it happen again. Before we move on to some messages from our congressional delegations, I’d like to thank my wife.   Everyone here should thank my wife, because there is no way I could do this without her.   The only way I can scurry off to a meeting every other day is because she can do anything on the farm, change a wheeline, change a tire, do a financial report and somehow still have time to educate my two daughters, who are also a big help on the farm.  Thank you.