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Klamath farmers denied rights to withheld water

Thursday, September 01, 2005 MICHAEL MILSTEIN

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Klamath Basin farmers have no ownership right to the irrigation water withheld by the U.S. government for protected fish during a severe drought in 2001.

The ruling deals a severe blow to farmers who argued that they deserve $100 million in compensation for the government's 2001 decision to restrict water to their farms. At the time they took center stage in a national debate over whether the Endangered Species Act put wildlife too far ahead of people.

But Judge Francis M. Allegra of the U.S. Court of Claims in Washington, D.C., said the farmers were claiming far more rights than they have to the water their farms receive from the federal complex of dams and canals on the Oregon-California line.

He referred to their contentions as "rootless" and "fantasy." Although he did not decide one secondary point, he said farmers face an "uphill battle" on even that argument.

Allegra recognized their "effort and expense in developing their lands based upon the expectation that the waters of the Klamath Basin would continue to flow, uninterrupted, for irrigation."

But, he said, "those expectations, no matter how understandable, do not give those landowners any more property rights as against the United States, and the application of the Endangered Species Act, than they actually obtained and possess."

 

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