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Group sues over Klamath water-right negotiations

By MITCH LIES Capital Press December 17, 2009

SALEM -- An Oregon water rights organization and six irrigators have filed suit in Marion County Circuit Court challenging the confidentiality of water-right negotiations between the Klamath Tribes and the state.

Water For Life and the irrigators claim in the suit filed Dec. 8 that the Oregon Water Resources Department for years has illegally prevented the public from engaging in the water rights adjudication process with the Klamath Tribes.

The suit lists as defendants the department and its director, Phil Ward.

The suit calls for the state to immediately open negotiations to the public.

It also asks the court to prohibit the state from signing onto the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement without first disclosing all records of the confidential negotiations..

"Oregon law is very clear," said Richard Kosesan, a lobbyist for Water For Life. "The department has legal authority to participate in tribal water right negotiations, but the negotiations must be open to the public."

Water Resources Department spokeswoman Brenda Bateman said the suit is "without merit." The department has operated throughout the process under the guidance of the Oregon attorney general's office, she said.

She added the discussions are not intended to and "will not quantify tribal water rights."

Tribal water rights will be quantified through an adjudication process conducted separately from the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement discussions, Bateman said.
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