Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Decision on 2001 water lawsuit could take 6 months
U.S. Court of Appeals heard case Thursday
by Ty Beaver, Herald and News 11/19/10
Some disagreements just have to run their course.
That’s how Craig Tucker, Klamath campaign coordinator with the Karuk Tribe of California, described a lawsuit about whether the federal government must pay irrigators after water was cutoff to the Klamath Reclamation Project in 2001.
The U.S. Court of Appeals heard the case Thursday. The court’s decision isn’t expected for at least six months.
The lawsuit has dragged through the courts for nearly a decade and potentially pits irrigators against fishermen and environmentalists, groups that have since worked together on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a document that seeks to resolve water conflicts in the Klamath Basin.
Those involved in the lawsuit say they don’t expect a ruling on the case to impact the restoration agreement or the relationships forged during its development.
“I think we have a lot of threats, but I don’t think it’s one of them,” said Tucker, who worked on the KBRA.
Tucker said the lawsuit was filed before the goodwill that was created during the drafting of the KBRA. The continuation of the lawsuit is just a final detail that must be dealt with before everyone moves forward.
Bill Ganong, a Klamath Falls attorney who worked on the lawsuit, also doesn’t expect the case to impact the work done on the restoration agreement.
Ganong said the lawsuit is more focused on how the Endangered Species Act is implemented by the federal government.
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations is one of the groups opposing the Project irrigators’ lawsuit.
But Glen Spain, the organization’s northwest regional director, said he doesn’t see any disruption to the goodwill that’s developed.
“The world has changed enormously in the past 10 years,” he said.
Background on the 2001 water shortage case
A lawsuit brought by Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators following the 2001 water shutoff has had a convoluted journey.
Bill Ganong, a Klamath Falls attorney who has worked on the case, said Thursday’s hearing by the U.S. Court of Appeals went longer than planned and was good for the irrigators’ case, but it will continue to trudge along, possibly being sent back to a lower court for a new decision.
“Nothing earth shaking, from the bottom line,” Ganong said.
In the suit, Project irrigators claim they have a private property interest in water used to irrigate their land and the federal government violated contractual agreements when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shut off that water in 2001 to provide for endangered fish species.
Environmentalist and fishermen’s groups, on the other hand, say the water is publicly owned and thus, property rights were not violated during the shutoff.
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled against irrigators in 2007, and the case was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
That federal court then requested the Oregon Supreme Court to answer questions on the case, and the state justices sought answers from attorneys during a special hearing in Klamath Falls in July 2009.
Ganong said he didn’t attend Thursday’s hearing, but reports he received indicated it was a good discussion.
“A lot of the discussion had to do with the contracts and contract language,” he said.
The contracts are not part of the case, and Ganong anticipated the appellate judges would require those questions be considered by lower courts.
Page Updated: Monday November 22, 2010 03:01 AM Pacific
Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2010, All Rights Reserved