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'A lot on the line' in water hearing
Irrigators wait on Klamath River court decision

By HOLLY DILLEMUTH, Herald and News 4/12/18

Jerry Johnson, owner of Monte Johnson Insurance with offices in Klamath Falls and Tulelake, was among dozens of Klamath Basin residents in a San Francisco courtroom Wednesday as U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick listened to arguments in a hearing that, pending a decision, will directly impact irrigators on the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project.

Orrick did not rule Wednesday on the roughly two-hour hearing held at the Phillip Burton Federal Court Building. Between 40 and 50 area residents, including Basin irrigators who rode a bus chartered by Klamath Water Users Association, were at the hearing stemming from the case of Hoopa Valley Tribe v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and National Marine Fisheries Service.

The case involves an injunction issued by Orrick on Feb. 8, 2017, that requires 50,000 acre feet of stored water be used for increased Klamath River flows to protect threatened Coho salmon from a disease outbreak caused by the parasite C. shasta. Irrigators are asking for at least a delay in the injunction due to drought conditions this year in the Klamath Basin. Also under review is a water delivery start date for irrigators.

The following irrigation districts are represented in the case: KWUA, Sunnyside Irrigation District, Klamath Drainage District, and Tulelake farmer Ben DuVal are intervenors in the case.

‘Livelihoods at stake’

Johnson, a Tulelake resident, said he’s waiting on a decision that could impact 70 percent of his business, which primarily provides crop insurance for Klamath Project irrigators.

“Our livelihoods are at stake with this decision,” Johnson told the Herald and News in a phone interview Wednesday.

“There’s just a lot on the line,” Johnson added.

“They didn’t make a decision, and I think that’s the hardest part is that we’re still in middle ground where there’s unknown, whether we’re going to get a start date, when is that start date … we’re just still in that limbo, so growers can’t make a decision whether they’re going to plant or not plant, or how much are they going to plant …. It’s just hard because nobody can move forward. They can’t make a decision without having a definite answer from the Bureau and the Project.”

Brad Kirby, president of Klamath Water Users Association, said he wasn’t surprised that no decision was made immediately by the judge, but believes being present in the courtroom was worthwhile.

“He said he will make a decision as soon as he can,” Kirby said.

“The good thing is he didn’t just dismiss the case,” he added. “We’ve got to wait till the judge comes back with a decision.”

But that doesn’t mean the impact of a pending decision is lessened by any means.

Losing everything

Depending on how much water is allocated for irrigators in the Basin and how late it is, family farms could go under, said Kirby, who also manages the Tulelake Irrigation District.

“We might see a number of family farms go bankrupt and lose everything, potentially,” Kirby said.

“That’s why this is so important and really why there was an effort, and a big effort, amongst the community and irrigators to be down here for this hearing, even though we might not learn everything today.

“These are people’s livelihoods that are hanging in the balance right now,” Kirby added.

Kirby expects 2018 to be as bad or worse for Basin irrigators as 2001.

“There are people who are still feeling the effects from 2001,” Kirby said. “... Just to think what that could mean for the future of our Basin – it’s scary, to say the least.”

Packed courtroom

Kirby was encouraged by Orrick’s recognition of irrigators who attended the hearing.

“He mentioned that this was the most people he’d ever had in the courtroom,” Kirby said of Orrick.

“It was recognized that there were people here (for the hearing). There were members of the tribes as well.”

Reclamation officials from the Klamath Basin Area Office also attended the hearing, Kirby said.

KWUA will host its annual water meeting at 6:30 p.m. today, with a social at 6 p.m., at Reames Golf & Country Club today. Alan Mikkelsen, senior adviser to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on water and western resources, will serve as guest speaker. The event is open to the public and there will be an update on the court hearing.





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              Page Updated: Thursday April 12, 2018 02:22 AM  Pacific

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