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Judge allows salmon fishermen to intervene in irrigators' lawsuit
By Jeff Barnard

1:39 p.m. March 1, 2005

GRANTS PASS, Ore. A federal judge has allowed a group of California salmon fishermen to intervene in a lawsuit brought by Klamath Basin irrigators seeking $100 million from the government for cutting off water in 2001 to help fish.

U.S. District Judge Francis M. Allegra ruled Monday that the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations had an economic interest in the allocation of water to the Klamath River, because salmon that the fishermen catch spawn there, and fishermen cannot depend on the government to fully represent their point of view.

"In the court's view, the PCFFA possesses a legally protectable interest involving the water of the Klamath Basin that is 'related to the property or transaction' at issue, one that lies in maintaining access to that water and ensuring that it is allocated in a fashion that promotes its fishing interests," the judge wrote.

The judge refused to allow six environmental groups to intervene in the case along with the fishermen.

"What it does is acknowledge these cases are about water, not just contract law, and commercial fishermen have every bit as much of an economic interest in the fate of water in our rivers as do irrigators," said Glen Spain of the fishermen's group.

Irrigators had argued that the only issue in the case was whether the government had to pay for depriving irrigators of water in 2001, when the Bureau of Reclamation reduced deliveries to part of the Klamath Reclamation Project during a drought to meet Endangered Species Act demands for minimum flows in the Klamath River for threatened coho salmon.

"A judgment for (the irrigators) in this case is not going to impact in any way the water that will be used for the fish that the fishermen catch, particularly since the case only deals with the year 2001," said Roger Marzulla, attorney for the Klamath Irrigation District and other plaintiffs.

The judge disagreed, noting that the government had argued if the irrigators win, the Bureau of Reclamation could, in the future, "think twice before allocating water to fishing interests at the expense of further irrigation."

Marzulla said his major concern was that the ruling could complicate an already complicated case by making the fishermen, in effect, a full participant.

Water allocations continue to be a contentious issue in the Klamath Basin, where the Bureau of Reclamation is charged with providing water for endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River, and more than 1,000 farms in the Klamath Reclamation District straddling the Oregon-California border south of Klamath Falls.

The strength of fall chinook runs in the Klamath River, which are not protected by the Endangered Species Act, have widespread effects on sport and commercial fishing seasons off Northern California and Oregon.

Seasons and catch quotas on healthy runs from the Sacramento River are expected to be restricted this year to assure that 35,000 wild Klamath fall chinook make it back to the river to spawn.

Tens of thousands of adult chinook died in 2002 when they returned to warm low water conditions in the Klamath River and were hit by gill rot disease.

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