Upper Klamath irrigators challenge water transfer
to wildlife refuge
A lawsuit claims Oregon water
regulators have authorized a water transfer to a wildlife
refuge without properly analyzing the impacts on Upper
The state’s Water Resources Department
in July approved a transfer of 3,750 acre-feet of water from
the Wood River and Crooked Creek in the Upper Klamath Basin
to the Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge for five years.
The California Waterfowl nonprofit had
bought the water from a ranch in the Upper Klamath Basin in
Oregon to convey to the national refuge in California to
benefit bird habitat under threat from the drought.
However, the Fort Klamath Critical
Habitat Landowners nonprofit and several irrigators in the
Upper Klamath Basin have filed a petition for judicial
review challenging the decision, which has the effect of
automatically blocking it under Oregon water law.
Racquel Rancier, senior water policy
coordinator with OWRD, said the agency will review the
petition but “generally does not comment on matters of
The petitioners argue that OWRD failed
to account for return flows from irrigation, since much of
the diverted water would normally flow back into the
waterways and contribute to the stream flows.
By sending the water out of the Upper
Klamath Basin, the transfer will lower streamflows and
potentially reduce water available for diversion by the
irrigators by 50% or more, the lawsuit said.
“The severe curtailment of
petitioners’ ability to irrigate and/or stockwater reduces
the amount of forage that petitioners and/or their lessees
can grow and the number of livestock petitioners and/or
their lessees can feed and/or threatens the lease value of
the petitioners’ real property,” the lawsuit said.
OWRD also exceeded its authority by
approving the transfer, since the water will ultimately be
delivered beyond its jurisdiction in California, the lawsuit
claims. Even if the agency did have jurisdiction, the
petitioners claim it didn’t follow the right laws and
regulations for the transfer.
The transfer will also cause a “gross
waste of water” contrary to law because the water is to be
conveyed through irrigation canals and will likely be lost
to evaporation and seepage, the lawsuit said.
The department didn’t “substantively
address” the concerns about injury to other water rights
from the transfer, which means it’s not supported by
“substantial evidence” contrary to water law, the lawsuit
“Rather than analyzing or addressing
the potential for injury, the Final Order blatantly ignored
it, deferring it for possible future assessment but without
providing affected water rights holders like petitioners any
legal recourse,” the petitioners claim.
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