Our Klamath Basin
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Water Battle Pitting Farmers Against Feds Heads to
U.S. Supreme Court
January 27, 2004: Pacific Legal
Foundation today asked the U.S. Supreme Court to
take up a
case that could dramatically alter water
rights throughout the West. The closely watched
case pits farmers in Washington’s Methow Valley
against federal agencies charged with unlawfully
redirecting water to benefit fish. PLF,
representing farmers and Okanogan County, argues
that a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s
decision gives the federal government sweeping
new authority to regulate state water that crosses
federal land. The decision could have
unprecedented, far-reaching effects because the
federal government’s land-holdings, particularly
in the West, are massive.
“Settled water rights throughout the West are in
jeopardy. If the Ninth Circuit decision survives,
it will disrupt almost 200 years of Western water
law,” said PLF Northwest Center Managing Attorney
“With a single decision the Ninth Circuit has
transferred to the federal government control of
more than 60% of the average annual water yield in
11 Western states,” added Brooks.
The case centers around the century-old water
rights of dozens of Methow River Basin farmers.
For the past three growing seasons, Methow Valley
irrigators have been deprived of water due to a
controversial decision by the Forest Service to
micromanage stream flows to achieve what the
government determines to be “optimal” in-stream
habitat conditions for fish listed under the
Endangered Species Act. As reported by The
Associated Press, the government takes the
position that “farmers cannot irrigate from the
Methow River if water flows drop below what they
were 100 years ago, when people first started
drawing water from the river.” When “target flows”
are not achieved, federal agencies cut off water
“The Ninth Circuit has essentially ruled that the
‘optimal’ conditions for fish are more important
than the rights of people to access the water they
need to survive,” said Brooks.
PLF is urging the Supreme Court to take the case,
arguing that the Ninth Circuit decision will have
a devastating impact far beyond the Methow Valley.
The Ninth Circuit’s opinion, PLF says, conflicts
with more than a century of federal law holding
that the power to manage water resources is
reserved exclusively to the states—deference that
is evident in no less than 37 federal statutes.
Moreover, the decision clashes with nearly 200
years of water law in the West.
“The farmers have a right to their water based on
long-standing federal and state law,” said Brooks.
“To hold otherwise means that the free-spirited
people of the West have just come under the
absolute command and control of the federal
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Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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