Klamath farmers get water; salmon, fishers & Native Americans lose

By Karen Gaudette, The Associated Press
Saturday May 04, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. — A federal judge on Friday denied an effort by commercial fishermen, American Indian tribes and environmental groups to release more water into the dwindling Klamath River. 

The Klamath straddles the California-Oregon state line and its waters irrigate crops and provide a home to fish such as the threatened coho salmon, a candidate for California’s list of endangered species. 

A drought last year forced farmers and other river users to battle over the shrinking water supply. This year, the Bush administration opted to earmark more water to Klamath Reclamation Project farmers, leaving less for young salmon headed toward the ocean. 

Commercial fishermen filed suit April 24 against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the National Marine Fisheries Service, demanding the federal government release more water to the river. In recent days, biologists and U.S. Forest Service employees have rescued hundreds of baby salmon and other fish stranded in puddles along the Klamath’s banks. 

But U.S. District Judge Saundra B. Armstrong ruled Friday the groups lack enough scientific evidence to block the federal government’s plans. However, she scolded the Bureau of Reclamation for giving the NMFS so little time to review its springtime operation, and urged all parties to try to compromise on water use rather than resolve their concerns through the courts. 

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Asssociation that represented farmers during the court teleconference, released a statement saying, “We are pleased that rushed and rash behavior has not been rewarded by Judge Armstrong.” 

Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations that filed the suit, said a decision about whether to appeal the judge’s ruling will not be made until she sees the written ruling. 

“The sad part is, we have salmon being stranded right now. We have fish being rescued,” she said. 

In March, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told the Bureau of Reclamation to begin full irrigation deliveries to the 1,400 farms on the Klamath Reclamation Project. 

They were responding to pleas from farmers who were cut off from irrigation water last year due to record drought. Last year, the bureau sharply cut back irrigation to maintain water levels set under the Endangered Species Act for endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and coho salmon in the Klamath River. 

The suit claimed springtime flows for the Klamath River this year have been as little as 60 percent of the water required for salmon to survive, and sought an increase to at least the same amount that was provided last year. 

The Bureau of Reclamation exceeded the bounds of the Endangered Species Act by separating springtime operations from the rest of the year and giving the NMFS only a day to review the springtime operations, the suit said. 

The case is Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, C02-2006-SBA. 


On the Net: 

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations: http://www.pcffa.org/ 

Klamath Basin Irrigators: http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/