Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Fairness and Justice For Farmers
E. WERNER RESCHKE STATE REPRESENTATIVE DISTRICT 56 June 12, 2020
For far too long farmers have been stereotyped as environment-trashing know-nothings. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the favored tool of litigious-happy, urban environmental groups who attack rural America and are rewarded with court-ordered attorneys’ fees. In the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon and northernmost California, farmers and ranchers using water from a federal water project are on the bleeding edge of the onslaught.
On June 18, the Supreme Court has the chance to give these citizens a day in court and protect American values.
The Klamath Irrigation Project was approved 115 years ago under the National Reclamation Act, which promoted settlement of the West and production of food to feed a hungry world. Brave settlers accepted the challenge to work hard, repay the government’s water project construction costs as well as their own production costs, and produce food. On much of the Klamath Project, veterans of World Wars I and II were awarded homesteads as gratitude for their service, and literally built communities from the ground up.
In 2001, the remaining original homesteaders were shocked when their own country shut off all their irrigation water. The excuse? Government biologists in faraway offices decided that all the water in the farmers’ reservoir had to be either: (1) held for endangered sucker fish; or (2) sent downstream to artificially increase river flows for a fish that spends more of its time in tributaries of the Klamath River rather than the river itself. So devastating was the damage that the National Academy of Sciences was called in to review the science. The verdict? The water that was taken from farmers and used to support higher lake levels and downstream releases was not scientifically justified. The science showed that the fish did not benefit, even if society does elevate suckers above people.
This devastation was engineered in the last days of the Clinton Administration. President George W. Bush’s Administration recognized the injustice, brought in objective science, and brought about some stability. Meanwhile, the farmers rightly sought relief from courts. In the Western states, water rights for irrigation are private property rights. When that property is taken, our constitution requires that the federal government pay those citizens for that "taking." Even if the science was not legitimate, society should pay for the property taken, if society does in fact elevate suckers above rural American’s property rights.
Enter the U.S. Department of Justice, which tied up the farmers in federal courts for 18 years. Swarms of federal lawyers leveraged urban ignorance of Western water law to shut down the farmers: damn their communities, and never mind the flawed science. The most recent decision by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit missed the mark so far that public water agencies who serve vast areas of the West have joined the call for the Supreme Court to set things straight.
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