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Project water delivery discussed following judge's decision

Walden, BOR to address irrigators today

A tentative time frame for Klamath Project water delivery of somewhere between June 1 and 15 was announced Tuesday by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The announcement came on the heels of an order issued Monday evening by U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick, denying a motion to modify release of water meant to protect threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

BOR’s Klamath Basin Area Office officials also said irrigators can expect a water delivery in the neighborhood of 200,000 acre feet, and up to 250,000 acre feet, if the Bureau can secure water from other sources, or if testing shows low infection rates in Klamath River coho.


“It’s certainly not a lot to work with but we’ll do our best,” said Scott White, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, noting that 200,000 acre feet is more than half of a 390,000 acre-foot allocation, the standard for a Project water year.

In past years, such as 2017, the Project has been allocated 325,000 acre feet, but normally has higher demand, up to 390,000 acre feet.

“We just don’t know what the summer holds,” White said.

Rep. Walden visiting today

To talk more about the path forward for the Basin’s water year, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden’s office announced that he will speak at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday in the South Portal building at the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce. Jeff Nettleton, Klamath Basin Area Office manager, will join Walden and Basin irrigators in discussing the court’s order and impact. The meeting is open to the public and seating is limited.

The Farm Service Agency also will be available at the meeting to offer drought crop assistance to eligible irrigators.

Part of BOR’s plan going forward, according to officials, is that the agency is considering asking for a total 14,500 acre feet of water from the Horsefly and Langell Valley irrigation districts. That amount, coupled with 10,500 acre feet borrowed from PacifiCorp reservoirs, could help irrigation districts make it through the month.

“They feel like that would cover KID (Klamath Irrigation District) and Tulelake Irrigation District through the month of May,” said Laura Williams, Klamath Basin Area Office spokesperson.

Flushing flows

The order issued by Orrick references the cases of Hoopa Valley Tribe vs. Bureau of Reclamation and Yurok Tribe vs. Bureau of Reclamation, wherein the Bureau was a federal defendant.

Orrick upheld the arguments of the Hoopa Valley and Yurok tribes, which counters that their cultural heritage and economic well-being revolve around the salmon’s health, as well as Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, and Klamath Riverkeeper, according to the ruling.

BOR and KWUA and others had asked for relief from an injunction issued by the court Feb. 8, 2017, which was denied Monday. The case involved 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 coho salmon, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, from a disease outbreak caused by the parasite C. shasta.

“I issued the injunctions because the law demands that endangered species are entitled to primary protection,” Orrick wrote in the ruling.

“... Intervenors’ argument mainly rests on the effects of the Klamath River Project on the family farms and ranches in the Project’s irrigation districts. I am sympathetic to those concerns, but as I have already discussed at length in the Injunction Orders and is very plainly the law, I am not free to favor economic or other interests over potential harm to endangered species.”

The Hoopa Valley and Yurok tribes could not be reached as of press time, but a news release issued by the Yurok Tribe on April 11 details how fish are viewed by the Tribe.

“For the Yurok people, there is nothing more important than the Klamath salmon,” said Thomas O’Rourke, Sr., chairman of the Yurok Tribe, in the release issued April 11. “Our fish are an essential part of our way of life and right now, because of the current drought, they are vulnerable to crisis-level disease rates.

“In every decision we make, we consider what it will mean for our fish and for our people several generations into the future,” O’Rourke added. “We would like the court and the BOR to take the same approach to prudently managing the Klamath River, the lifeline of the Yurok people.”

Defendants and intervenors include Sunnyside Irrigation District, Tulelake resident Ben DuVal, Klamath Drainage District, Klamath Irrigation District, and Pine Grove Irrigation District, intervened on the side of the Bureau and the National Marine Fisheries Service in both cases, according to the order, and advocated for protecting their livelihoods.

Wait and see


“Obviously we’re disappointed and obviously this doesn’t help with our issues this year,” White said. “But look, our approach since the ‘90s has been to conserve water and support activities based on best available science that were supposed to help the fisheries. Twenty-five years later, and we continue to wait to see those benefits. We’ve taken over 25,000 acres out of production and sent more water down the river for the sake of the fishery and they’re apparently worse off now than before. Maybe we need to change our mindset and rethink their approach.”

Brad Kirby, president of the KWUA board of directors, spoke via phone with members of irrigation districts Tuesday, including Klamath Irrigation District, Klamath Drainage District, and Van Brimmer Irrigation District.

Kirby expressed optimism that irrigation districts could work together to divvy up 10,500 acre feet of water shared between them from a borrowed amount from PacifiCorp. No action was taken to guarantee how much each district will receive of the 10,500 acre feet but a meeting is planned for 2 p.m. on Thursday at KID’s headquarters, KID Lane, off of Highway 39.

On the court’s ruling, Kirby in a news release said: “This leaves very little water to be delivered to the Project during this time. We’ve threaded the needle in the past, and will do what we can to do it again. We’re not going to have much to work with, but we’ll work non-stop.”

Evidence based

Orrick said his jurisdiction is “limited” in the case, but also that he chose his decision based on evidence.

“Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 62.1, I consider the merits of intervenors’ motion and DENY it because they do not show newly discovered evidence sufficient to justify suspending or modifying the injunctions,” Orrick said.

Orrick said staying enforcement would not preserve the status quo, and that he does not have jurisdiction to grant water users’ requested stay while an appeal is pending.

“Nor would I in light of the evidence of record,” Orrick said.

Orrick said, with respect to federal defendants’ proposed plan, that federal defendants’ obligations under the injunctions are for partial compliance with the injunction if full compliance isn’t possible.

“And again I urge that the able bodied scientists who are working on this issue attempt to reach consensus on whether the best available science has changed since issuance of the 2013 Biological Opinion to the extent that the injunctions should be modified prior to water year 2019,” Orrick said.



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