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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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OAKLAND, CA; January 14, 2005: In the second major court victory for Klamath farmers this week, a federal court yesterday ruled in favor of the Klamath Water Uses Association when it dismissed the case brought by the Yurok Tribe to usurp the water rights of Klamath farmers. Pacific Legal Foundation successfully represented the Klamath Water Users Association as intervenors in the tribe’s case against the federal government. (The case is PCFFA v. United States Bureau of Reclamation.)

"This is a great victory for Klamath farmers, and for all of the people who worked hard to put a balanced plan in place for the Klamath Basin," said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Andrew Lloyd. "The farmers and the federal government understood that everyone needs to work together to manage scarce resources."

"Unfortunately, the Yurok Tribe used the Klamath crisis as a political opportunity to wrest operational control of the Klamath Project from the Bureau of Reclamation. The tribe wanted the Bureau to dedicate its stored water to them first, and only if there was water left over could any be used by the Klamath Project’s farmers. The judge made it clear that the tribe does not have that authority," Lloyd said.

In 2001, Klamath Basin farmers lost their crops and farms when environmentalists forced a shutdown of water deliveries to the farmers to protect coho salmon and sucker fish in the Upper Klamath Lake. The federal government’s decision to end water deliveries to hundreds of farming families who have lived and farmed in the basin for a century left many farmers bankrupt and severely damaged the community economically. Despite the devastation they suffered, the farmers have continued to work with the federal government to make more water available for in-stream flows through a water bank program.

The Yurok Tribe, which lives nearly 200 miles downriver from the Klamath Project, claimed the operation of the Klamath Project and low water flow caused an unprecedented fish die off in 2002. They contended the bureau should have released more water, and that the low flows violated their fishing rights under federal law. They sued to force the federal government to give more water to them and less to the farmers, but failed to establish any legal basis for the court to do so.

The court agreed with PLF’s position that the 2002 fish die off occurred only once in recorded history, and found that the tribe could not establish that a similar fish die off was likely to occur in the future. Despite the fish die off, the California Department of Fish and Game reported that during the 2002 fishing season, the Yurok Tribe and the Hoopa Valley Tribe were able to catch more than 24,000 fish, which was well above the historical average harvest of 22,500.

Earlier this week, Pacific Legal Foundation won another long-fought victory on behalf of Klamath farmers when a federal judge ruled that the Endangered Species Act listing of the coho salmon in the Klamath Basin rivers of southern Oregon and northern California was unlawful. (Grange v. Evans and National Marine Fisheries Service.)

About Pacific Legal Foundation

Founded in 1973, Pacific Legal Foundation is a national leader in the effort to reform the Endangered Species Act and raise awareness of the Act’s impact on people. More information on the Foundation can be found at www.pacificlegal.org.

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