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Water group suing state

Lawsuit claims closed-door talks violate state law
by Ty Beaver, Herald and News 12/10/09

     A group representing irrigators off the Klamath Reclamation Project is suing the state for participating in closed-door discussions about the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

   State officials deny any wrongdoing.

   Portland-based Water for Life filed the lawsuit in Marion County Circuit Court Wednesday. The document specifically seeks to stop the Oregon Water Resources Department from participating in closed-door discussions regarding water rights of the Klamath Tribes. Water for Life claims the discussions violate state law.

   “The department has legal authority to participate in tribal water right negotiations, but the negotiations must be open to the public,” said Richard Kosesan, spokesman for Water for Life, in a press release.  

   State officials said the state is acting within the law, though added they have not yet fully reviewed the suit. Others, including the Resource Conservancy and state lawmakers, also have criticized the state’s involvement.

   “We don’t think we’ve done anything illegal because the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement does not settle the water adjudication issue,” said Tom Paul, Oregon Water Resources Department spokesman.       

   State and federal officials, irrigators, tribes, fishermen and environmentalists have worked for years on the restoration agreement, which seeks to resolve conflicts over water in the Klamath River watershed.

   Open negotiations

   Water for Life, which was established by several Basin irrigators, said work on the document took place under a shroud of secrecy, and the state’s participation violates state law that calls for any negotiations on water rights to be open to the public.  

     Paul and Mike Carrier, natural resources policy adviser for Gov. Ted Kulongoski, said it’s appropriate and prudent for the state to be involved in restoration agreement negotiations.

   Paul said the state’s involvement isn’t to make decisions on the value of individual water rights, but to help settle a few of the contests within the state’s water adjudication process. Water rights will be defined by the state’s adjudicator, who has not participated in the talks nor been briefed on them, Paul said.  

   State officials are in Portland this week for what could be the last round of negotiations on the restoration agreement.

   Kosesan, however, said the state has fallen short of what it’s required to do in providing the public access to the talks and allowing input.

   “I think the statutory provisions they need to operate under are adequately clear,” he said.  

Herald and News reader comments:

Cheri wrote on Dec 10, 2009 2:01 PM:
" Oregon statute on this is very specific and the state of Oregon is not allowed to negotiate or make agreements with federally recognized Indian tribes , unless the meetings are open to the public - ALL of the public, not just a .
selected few.
The behavior of Oregon Water Resources Department and their director, Phil Ward is abominable and illegal.
I hope damages can be recovered for the off project irrigators, who will lose their water if the KBRA is implemented. "
Mike wrote on Dec 10, 2009 10:09 AM:
" Any time any goverment or govermental agency particpates in closed door or secret agreements our way of life is seriously in jeopardy.

This was wrong and should never be allowed to happen again. "

Its About Time wrote on Dec 10, 2009 9:38 AM:
" Thank heavens this charade is being challenged in court. The State has no business negotiating anything since it is the final arbiter in the water rights administrative process pursuant to Oregon law. The State should be entirely neutral instead of pushing an agenda in private. The adjudication process as created by the state legislature should be completed. Then, water rights holders can negotiate between themselves.

I see the KBRA as a ruse to remove dams to please certain environmental groups, insert the Federal Government into water rights which is strictly a state concern, and fleece the taxpayers once again so certain people can make money. "
Dan wrote on Dec 10, 2009 6:20 AM:
" The KBRA and the participants forced them into this move.

Wouldn't you fight for your livelihood? This agreement is especially smelly since it was all done behind closed doors and no dissenting voice was allowed. "
The KBRA process violates Oregon Law wrote on Dec 9, 2009 9:25 PM:
" Without the order of the law all of our basic freedoms are in jeopardy. Thank goodness for those off project irrigators willing to sacrifice to make this state follow the written law.

It appears that the KBRA will cause significantly more litigation from a variety of sources than allowing the adjudication process to proceed as prescribed by Oregon Water Law doctrine and statute. "
Robert D. wrote on Dec 9, 2009 8:32 PM:
" Why do we need to put a hand on the Bible to testify in court , but they will not allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed on the lawn outside? "
how fitting wrote on Dec 9, 2009 6:30 PM:
" Well, you can say a lot of things about Off-Project irrigators, but one thing you cannot says is that they aren't hellbent on litigation. "


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