Judge Denies Klamath Farmers' Desperate Plea for Water, 
By Jeff Barnard, Associated Press,        May 1,2001    
Related Previous AP Stories     April 23  April 27

GRANTS PASS, Ore. - A federal judge Monday denied a 
desperate plea for water from farmers in the Klamath Basin, saying 
the Endangered Species Act clearly gives threatened and endangered 
fish the highest priority during this drought. 
Ruling in Eugene, U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken wrote that 
the Klamath Water Users Association and others were unlikely to 
prevail in their lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, 
which controls the major irrigation project in the Klamath Basin. 
Aiken denied a request for an injunction restoring irrigation 
Angered by the decision, farmers said they would continue to 
fight, despite the judge's advice to give up lawsuits and seek a 
long-term solution to recurring water shortages through 
negotiations with the government, Indian tribes, salmon fishermen 
and conservationists. 
"We're not done yet," said Don Russell, chairman of the 
Klamath Water Users Association. "This is far too big to let it 
ride and let it go. 
"We're talking human lives here," Russell added. "This is 
private lands. These are homesteaders. These are veterans. We paid 
for this." 
The farmers plan to hold a demonstration May 7 in Klamath Falls, 
symbolically dipping water out of Upper Klamath Lake, passing it by 
bucket brigade down Main Street, and pouring it into an irrigation 
Farmer Steve Kandra said low interest loans made available after 
the Department of Agriculture declared the Klamath Basin a disaster 
area would do little for farmers already leveraged to the limit, 
and faced with having to give back money they borrow for operating 
"Basically, what I have is the government owes me money," 
Kandra said. "That's what they need to be doing, compensating me 
for that." 
The lawsuit sought to reverse the Bureau of Reclamation decision 
April 7 to allocate nearly all the water in the Klamath Project to 
endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake, the project's primary 
reservoir, and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River, which 
drains the basin. 
With mountain snowpacks that fed the project 29 percent of 
normal, the bureau had no water for 90 percent of the 200,000 acres 
of farmland irrigated by the Klamath Project. The farms produce 
primarily hay, potatoes and cattle. 
It was the first time that fish protected by the Endangered 
Species Act, commercial salmon fishermen and the Klamath and Yurok 
tribes have won out over the farmers since the irrigation project 
first opened its headgates in 1907. 
Judge Aiken wrote that while it is clear that the farmers face 
severe economic hardship, the threat to the very survival of 
endangered sucker fish and threatened coho salmon is greater. 
She added that the Endangered Species Act and treaty obligations 
to the Klamath and Yurok tribes, which have cultural and economic 
ties to the fish, left the bureau with no other course. 
"The scarcity of water in the Klamath River Basin is a 
situation likely to recur," the judge wrote. "Continued 
litigation is not likely to assist in such a challenging endeavor. 
This court hopes and expects that the parties and other entities 
necessary to long-term solutions will continue to pursue 
alternatives to meet the needs of the Klamath River Basin." 
Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Jeff McCracken said he hoped 
mediation under the auspices of U.S. Magistrate Tom Coffin would 
find a solution that would help everyone involved. 
Troy Fletcher, executive director of the Yurok Tribe in Eureka, 
Calif., said the tribe sympathized with the plight of the farmers, 
but their use of the limited water available in the basin needs to 
be reduced. 
"I don't think it will be the status quo in the Klamath Basin 
any more," he said. "These issues came to light because of the 
severe drought we're in. But there is trouble even in normal water 
years. There is not enough water to go around." 
Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's 
Associations said he hoped the judge's ruling would move farmers 
toward serious negotiations on long-term solutions. 
"The project has been getting water at the expense of all the 
other users and economic interests for quite a long time," Spain 
said. "Obviously this can't continue."