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
"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
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
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
"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."