Suit claims federal agencies failed to comply with National Environmental Policy Act

Sacramento, CA, April 25, 2001 California Waterfowl Association (CWA) has
filed a motion to join the Klamath Water Users Association and agricultural
irrigators in a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS),
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), and the National Marine Fisheries
Service (NMFS). The lawsuit seeks to overturn the USBR decision to halt
Klamath Reclamation Project water deliveries to the Klamath National
Wildlife Refuge Complex and local agricultural producers in order to meet
the needs of listed fish species.

The suit claims the federal agencies failed to comply with the requirements
of the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), causing, “horrendous social,
environmental, and community impacts.” NEPA requires government assessment
of major federal actions that affect the human environment, and requires
preparation of an environmental impact statement if effects are significant.
The suit also claims the named agencies failed to protect irrigators’
contract rights to water under the Reclamation Act. The initial lawsuit,
which will be heard in the U.S. District Court in the District of Oregon,
was filed on April 9th and CWA will file a motion to intervene as plaintiffs
on April 26th. Additional plaintiffs include the Klamath Irrigation
District, and Tulelake Irrigation District.

Bill Gaines, Director of Government Affairs for CWA expressed the
association’s concern.
“The USFWS decision is narrow-minded and virtually ignores the enormous
wildlife values of the region,” said Gaines. “Klamath wetlands serve as the
heart of the Pacific Flyway migration route. Drying up these lands would be
devastating to the waterfowl resource, and many other wetland-dependent
species. ”

The Klamath Basin is one of the most critical waterfowl staging areas in
North America. Each year the Basin serves as a migratory stopover for nearly
three-quarters of all Pacific Flyway waterfowl, with peak fall
concentrations of over 2 million ducks, geese, and swans. The Basin’s
diverse habitat also supports over 430 documented species of wildlife,
including the largest wintering concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48

Over 75% of the Klamath Basin’s wetlands have been destroyed. The few
wetlands that remain must now be artificially irrigated and managed to
maximize marsh benefits. As a result of these requirements, the quality of
the habitat in the Klamath Basin is entirely dependant upon the availability
of Klamath Reclamation Project water supplies out of Upper Klamath Lake.

The USBR decision to withhold water, based on USFWS and NMFS biological
opinions, will affect almost 1200 area farmers and several national wildlife
refuges, effectively “drying up” the entire area. Three endangered fish
species are at the core of the USFWS opinions-two suckers in Upper Klamath
Lake and coho salmon in the Klamath River. The lake levels and river flows
fishery scientists believe are needed to support the three fish are the
subject of much debate. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have concerns about
the accuracy of the biological data used to deduce these lake levels and are
shocked by the USFWS ill conceived solution.

CWA biologist Tim Griffiths, based in the Klamath area, also has concerns
over the future relationship between water users and federal conservation
programs. “Private landowners are being blind-sided by this ‘iron-fisted’
approach to conservation,” said Griffiths. “The water users have voluntarily
and successfully worked with federal agencies for over ten years, but after
this, I doubt they’ll be as willing.”

CWA rarely takes legal action, preferring to use collaboration to accomplish
its goals. However, there is little doubt that the USFWS action will be
detrimental to waterfowl, other wildlife, and their natural and agricultural
food resources in the Klamath Basin. The Association is compelled to act to
protect the area’s waterfowl, wetlands, and associated outdoor traditions.

Erik Bergren
Communications Department
California Waterfowl Association

Thank you Erik