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Water adjudication: Wogan hears exceptions to state's decree

by Holly Dillemuth June 9, 2017

Attendees gathered in the gallery of Klamath County Circuit Court Wednesday and Thursday for public hearings involving the recent adjudication of “Waters of the Klamath River Basin,” to hear oral arguments and identify how to move the case forward.

The adjudication, which included more than 730 claims to water rights initially, involves the determination of surface water rights by the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) related to the Water Rights Code in 1909, according to court documents.

OWRD issued its final adjudication order for the Basin on March 7, 2013. It was the last region in the state to come under adjudication.

Now, the circuit court takes over to hear appeals. There are more than 5,600 objections or “contests” filed in response to OWRD’s ruling.

Legal teams representing a multitude of parties, including irrigators and the Klamath Tribes, gave oral arguments before Klamath County Circuit Court Judge Cameron Wogan.

“It’s like an appeal,” local water attorney Bill Ganong said. “It’s saying, ‘We disagree with this finding, and here’s why.’”

“It’s not looking at any individual claim or the facts of any claim, it’s looking at what’s the process or procedure going to be in circuit court and what the rules are going apply,” said Ganong, who is also working on the cases.

Wogan is now tasked with resolving exceptions filed in response to OWRD’s findings.

“I’ll rule as quickly as I can,” Wogan said before adjourning the last hearing on Thursday morning.

Ganong sees the possibility that a ruling by Judge Wogan could mean the consideration of a new trial held at the circuit court level, though nothing will be determined outside Wogan’s ruling.

“Our position is, there should not be a new trial,” Ganong said. “We’ve already been through an extensive hearing process.”

Others see the possibility as that of determining whether some new evidence related to adjudication would be allowed in circuit court or whether to defer to the administrative ruling, according to attorney Dominic Carollo.

“We’re talking more about process and laying a foundation to move forward in adjudication,” said Don Gentry, Klamath Tribes chairman, who is represented in the case by the United States. “At issue is what’s the role of circuit court here.

“We went through the state phase and brought in evidence to support our claims,” Gentry said, which involve maintaining rights to water in-stream.

“There’s just a difference of perspective on what this court is to do from this point forwards.”

Gentry hopes that the court not allow more evidence to come forward than has already been filed.

“We’re concerned about going back over the same ground that we went through before,” Gentry said. “We all invested a lot into the process in the administrative phase, and I feel there’s opportunity for the judge to basically review contests or exceptions.”

Overall, ensuring one’s right to water is a goal of those with a stake in the case, according to Ganong.

“It’s about a finite resource,” Ganong said. “There’s only so much water, and both the pre-1909 claims and the post-1909 water rights that exist far exceed the amount of water that’s there. And so at the end of the day ... If all the claims were approved, there would be many times when some of the claims, some of the water right holders would never get water.”



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              Page Updated: Monday June 12, 2017 05:35 PM  Pacific

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