By Emily Wood, May 13, 2009 KDRV
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. - The Oregon Supreme Court was in Klamath Falls Wednesday to hear a case from the 2001 Klamath Basin water crisis.
In 2001, with the basin facing a drought, the Bureau of Reclamation shut off irrigation water to farmers to save endangered fish species in the Klamath River.
The Klamath Basin water users lawsuit against the federal government alleges the government took personal property by shutting off water, and now they want compensation.
Federal judges want the Oregon Supreme Court to answer questions about the lawsuit and state water rights. They want the state Supreme Court's help in understanding the context of Oregon's water laws.
"For 100 years the water's been used on the Klamath Project to grow crops, and that was the purpose of the Federal Reclamation Act to make water available to grow crops," says Klamath Irrigation District Attorney Bill Ganong.
"They have rights here, they absolutely have rights to irrigation water in this project. The questions is, what's the nature of those rights? How far do they go? Do they trump the rights that the fishermen have?" asks Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association Todd True.
There is no monetary figure at this time for compensation. The court would first have to rule that the government did in fact take water that belonged to irrigators.
A written opinion from the Oregon Supreme Court could take anywhere from six months to two years. That decision then goes back to the Federal Circuit Court in Washington D.C. for a final ruling.
The public hearing was held at Klamath Union High School, giving community members an opportunity to see how the state Supreme Court operates.