Irrigators lose Klamath case

October 2, 2017 1:44pm

•  Had sought Millions in drought payments

•  “The government made a science-based decision”

Agribusiness interests within the federal Klamath Irrigation Project that had been seeking some $30 million in compensation for reduced irrigation water deliveries during an extreme drought that struck the Klamath River Basin in 2001, have been rebuffed by the U.S. Court of Claims.

Though other groups in the Klamath Basin of Oregon and California suffered during the 2001 drought — including Native American tribes, the salmon fishing industry, and farmers outside of the Klamath Project — Klamath Project irrigation interests wanted a special payout to compensate them for a federal decision to leave some water in the Klamath River and Upper Klamath Lake for imperiled salmon and other fish.

In her opinion, Judge Marian Horn ruled that the Klamath tribes’ rights to the water were superior to the agribusiness interests, and that the amount of water needed to maintain those rights was at least as much as was needed to meet the requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act to save imperiled salmon and Lost River and shortnose suckers and coho salmon.

The $30 million in compensation requested by the irrigators would have been in addition to the approximately $40 million in state and federal relief provided to Klamath agribusiness interests immediately after the 2001 drought.

“The government made a science-based decision about what was required to protect endangered salmon in the Klamath River and endangered lake fish in Upper Klamath Lake — the end result of which was to leave a minimal amount of water in the river,” says Todd True, a senior attorney in Earthjustice’s Seattle office who has been representing fishing and conservation interests in the long-running case. “This decision was required by the law and had the effect of helping to protect the economies and traditions of tribal and coastal communities that rely on salmon and other fish.”

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