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Judge urges state to act on Upper Klamath Lake water distribution

SALEM — Marion County Judge Claudia M. Burton on Monday ruled in favor of the Klamath Irrigation District (KID) by urging the Oregon Water Resources Department to make a determination on the distribution of water in Upper Klamath Lake.

The case stems from a request by KID earlier this year of the state water agency to regulate the water in the lake, a request that KID officials and legal counsel said was not acknowledged.

“The response to that request has been absolutely nothing,” said Nathan Rietmann, attorney for KID, addressing Burton. “No action or decision or anything has been taken to control the distribution of water.”

Rietmann said the irrigation district was not asking the court to decide substantive water law, but emphasized KID’s right to store water and utilize the water from the lake for irrigation purposes.

“We are simply asking the department to go out and perform its duty,” Rietmann said.

Jerry Enman, vice president of KID, and Ty Kliewer, president of KID, were among a group of nearly one dozen irrigators as well as representatives from the state who attended the hearing at the Marion County Courthouse in Salem.

Enman, who called the ruling a victory, said that the district made the request to OWRD earlier this year because members allege mismanagement by the lake’s manager, Bureau of Reclamation. The goal for KID is that the state agency consider the district’s rights to store water and use the water it stores, though the Bureau of Reclamation would maintain management of the lake.

Enman and others at the district are concerned that if left unregulated by the state agency, there would not be enough water to irrigate the Klamath Project until the end of the season.

“What we want to impact is whether the Project gets shut off this fall,” Enman said. “It’s a possibility that it coul. We want the stored water to let us finish the irrigation season. That’s what we want to impact.”

Ty Kliewer, president of KID, who also attended the hearing, emphasized the district’s water right to use stored water in Upper Klamath Lake.

“It’s taken over 40 years to get to the point where we have a water right and since that has happened, it has been ignored,” Kliewer said. “It’s been very frustrating to us and today is a step hopefully for that changing for the better of the Basin, and people with the right to use water in the Basin.

Kliewer emphasized the judge’s ruling compels the department to act, giving the agency an opportunity to respond.

Kyle Gorman of the water resources agency declined to immediately comment on the ruling following the hearing.

What does Water Resources do?

The State Water Resources Department's mission is to serve the public by practicing and promoting responsible water management through two key goals:

  • To directly address Oregon's water supply needs, and
  • To restore and protect streamflows and watersheds in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of Oregon's ecosystems, economy, and quality of life.




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