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Tribes oppose irrigators’ $50 million bond request

A federal lawsuit that could determine access to water in the Klamath Basin this summer has taken a new turn as parties argue whether the Klamath Tribes should post a $50 million bond to protect irrigators.

According to parties intervening in the suit, at least $50 million is needed to cover financial losses for agricultural producers who would lose access to water if the court rules in the Tribes’ favor.

The Tribes said such an amount far exceeds the funds they have budgeted for the lawsuit and, if they are required to post the bond, they would be forced to abandon their efforts.


“The present litigation has already placed a strain on the Klamath Tribes’ 2018 and 2019 budgets,” said Tribal Chairman Don Gentry and Tribal Treasurer Brandi Hatcher in a statement to the court July 10. “The Klamath Tribes believe conserving the sacred C’waam (Lost River sucker) and Koptu (shortnose sucker) warrants the investment and is in the interest of our members as well as the public generally, but we are simply unable to make significant additional expenditures toward this effort beyond budgeted litigation.”

The Tribes sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) May 23, claiming BOR needed to allow higher levels of water in Upper Klamath Lake to prevent an extinction-level die-off of endangered suckerfish. The tribes cited an expected drought this summer, following an exceptionally dry and warm winter.

On May 29, the Tribes filed a motion for a preliminary injunction directing BOR to maintain lake levels at a minimum required to ensure fish survival. A hearing was scheduled for July 11 to consider the injunction, but has since been re-scheduled for this Friday in San Francisco before Judge William Orrick.

Multiple parties have intervened in the suit to voice their opposition, including Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), Sunnyside Irrigation District (SID) and irrigators filing as individuals. In a June 27 objection to the injunction, KWUA and SID said the Tribes are required by federal law to put forward financial security to cover losses incurred as a result of the injunction.

They said the annual crop value of irrigators within the Klamath Project was reported at $169 million in 2016. Based on these figures and expected impact of the injunction, KWUA and SID said a conservative estimate for a bond to cover irrigators losses would be $50 million.

“Although not sufficient to make Project water users whole, an amount on this order would at least provide a degree of assistance for many Project farmers to resume operation in post-injunction years,” said the objection. “Intervenors recognize that in this type of case a bond is rare. However, plaintiff chose to seek a remedy at a time that would inflict the worst possible damage on the agricultural community.”

Irrigators have further argued the suckerfish are unlikely to suffer losses as great as those described by the Tribes and an injunction is unnecessary. The Tribes argue they will suffer irreversible losses if the injunction is not granted, saying the suckerfish are “at imminent risk of a catastrophic die-off.”




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