Enough playing around children, it’s time to take your bucket out of the sandbox and put it away.

For twelve years Klamathites have been parading around a large (12-foot tall) effigy of a pail that has primarily resided in front of Klamath County headquarters. It was fabricated as a symbol of the farmers’ struggle for water rights following the 2001 protests that raged when the federal government shut off the water supply to the Klamath irrigation canals in order to increase the water flow downstream in the Klamath River.

Bucket in front of Klamath County

Bucket confusion harms economy

Yeah, we get it. Now please put the damn thing away. Move it next to the refuse from the Modoc lumber mill that closed in 1984 and plant some pretty flowers in it so there is something interesting to take a photo of.

What’s the harm in leaving it where it is? Plenty, considering it is impeding property investment.

Klamathites think of themselves as independent, but historically, nearly all of the major investments that led to the development of the area came from elsewhere. This was true in the early 1900s when the Klamath Development Company was funded by wealthy industrialists to create a city around the rail construction, followed by steamboats on Klamath Lake, dredging, brothels, and many other proejcts, such as the development of Rocky Point. It was true in 1957 when Dick Wendt–originally from Iowa–came to town to build an empire that grossed $2 billion a year at peak. And it was true again when Wendt’s development projects enticed Californians to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on his resort properties with anciallary investments and consumption that spilled into the area-at-large, sustaining nearly all small businesses. Oh yes, and recall that in the 1940s, the federal government invested millions in developing a canal system to make farming possible, then gave away land to homesteaders and veterans that settled down here. (They don’t give away land anymore…people have to pay for it now, but at a much lower rate than several years ago).

In spite of this clear history, some people still think that somehow the local economy is self-made and will be so in the future. If that is true, where is all the local money that should be funding the new projects that create jobs and retain citizens? It seems strangely absent. In light of this, it would seem that Klamath would benefit from cleaning up the sandbox and making some sort of real effort to be attractive to investment. That process begins with perception.

Still scratching your head over the bucket connection?

Klamath will never recover unless it takes a collective step back and notices how all the little things we do impact the perception of those who visit and may want to bring their money here–like a decade-old bucket that only has meaning for a handful of people representing an industry that at best employs only 5% of the total workforce, mostly during the summer. The water crisis is not a Klamath issue. The lack of water is impacting people everywhere in different ways. Our bucket has a certain meaning that is misconstrued by others. For example, nearly every summer, people in parts of southern California are banned from watering their lawns. Some of those people would like to sell their expensive houses and retire, or just downsize to a less urban setting where they can have green grass. For them, the bucket raises an alarm that they won’t be able to water their lawns in Klamath either. This is not true, of course, our water crisis doesn’t impact residential users. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is how that brief glint of conflict chills enthusiasm among people who might otherwise invest. The bucket perpetuates the notion that Klamath is comprised of single-minded agriculture zealots that don’t want them here. This is a form of predjudice that has been echoed in reality by many Californians who have moved here, then left after feeling the jaded by locals.

The bucket has never led to any direct gain for the local population. Its more like a jackalope mounted in the study of a hunter who couldn’t bag his quarry. The entire fight for water rights has many sides, even here in Klamath. The famers haven’t been shut down since that one dire incident in 2001. So what are we still bitching about? The principle of it? Sure. Nonetheless, decisions were still made to take away the dams. The bucket is a poor symbol for that fight. A better symbol would be a whitewater raft for the 28 guide companies that won’t be able to take visitors down the Klamath once the dams are gone. So maybe we should put 20-person raft next to the bucket as well. Wait…the tribes downstream keep winning victories on water rights for other purposes, such as the salmon they gillnet and they are aligned with the local tribes who do live here, so let’s drape a 500-foot net over the county offices too. And fill the bucket with rotting suckerfish just to make sure they are fully represented. A lot of beavers died when the Nature Conservancy removed dikes around the Williamson, so we should invite them to adorn the rim with pelts.

Perhaps we should also place symbolic effigies at the courthouse for all the industries that have been harmed by policy debates. Move all the logging equipment from the museum and Collier Park to the county offices. Place the frame of an empty house there as well to symbolize the crash of real estate and the dislocated construction workers. We need more money for airport construction mistakes, so better toss a mothballed F-15 in there. Maybe an ambulance to make sure the medical industry is represented so we can keep receiving subsidies for OIT’s programs. The list goes on.

Either get rid of the bucket, or in all fairness, open main street up as a dumping ground for every gawdy eyesore that the other disenfranchised groups can conjure. It might actually work. Instead of putting visitors off with our ignorance, tourists will come from around the world to see the crazy colletion of super-sized artifacts that rival the Route 66 roadside attractions that were constructed in the 50s. Tourism hit a record low last summer, so Klamath really needs this.