U.S. Water News Online
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The federal government's plan for
balancing water between Klamath Basin farmers and threatened coho
salmon violates the Endangered Species Act, but not enough to justify
shutting off irrigation for farmers this year, a federal judge has
The steps ordered by the NOAA Fisheries to protect coho are
invalid because they rely on states and private parties to take
actions that may never come to pass, such as the development of new
water sources to increase river flows, Judge Saundra B. Armstrong
The judge, ruling from Oakland, Calif., found that the biological
opinion produced by the agency to protect the fish under a 10-year
operations plan for the Klamath Reclamation Project was arbitrary and
Armstrong wrote that normally, she would have thrown out the
document with such a ruling, but in the interest of fairness and
because she found short-term plans for river flows valid, she would
leave the biological opinion in force while it is changed by NOAA
Ravaged by drought in 2001, the Klamath Basin has been a national
battleground between farmers, Indian tribes, fishermen and
environmentalists over how to allocate scarce water resources between
After irrigation was restored in 2002, 33,000 fall Chinook died.
The California Department of Fish and Game blamed the kill in part on
the Klamath Project.
That sparked a lawsuit from fishermen, Indian tribes,
environmentalists and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., against the
federal government's management plan.
Spokesmen for the plaintiffs and farmers both proclaimed the
ruling a victory, adding it sets the stage for meaningful progress in
balancing water between fish and farms.
Dan Keppen of the Klamath Water Users Association said farmers'
biggest fear, a court order reducing irrigation in the middle of
summer this year, did not happen.
``The bottom line is this decision does not impact (irrigation)
deliveries this year when we are trying to keep everything together
just to keep everybody whole,'' Keppen said.
Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice, the environmental public interest
law firm representing plaintiffs, said they were disappointed the
judge did not immediately order more water for fish, but looked
forward to development of a better plan.
``I am very wary of (another) fish kill,'' Boyles said. ``These
flows I believe are scientifically insupportable.
A telephone conference was set for July 31 to settle issues such
as a timetable for fixing the biological opinion.
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