When the snow’s not falling, the rain is. At least it seems that way so far in 2017. It adds up to a lot of moisture in and on the ground.
It has appearances of a good year for those who depend on water — such as irrigators, fishermen and tribes in the Klamath River Basin. But appearances can sometimes be deceiving in a Basin where there is seldom enough water to go around.
Irrigators — farmers and ranchers mainly — are squeezed between needs of threatened and endangered fish species at both ends of the Klamath River, which starts at Klamath Falls and ends near Klamath, Calif., 263 miles away on the California Coast.
The Endangered Species Act and tribal water rights give the fish priority. The fish, and those who depend on them, get squeezed, too — depending on the weather and the amount of water in Upper Klamath Lake and the river.
Federal agencies determine water allocations based on biological opinions that are subject to scientific and legal challenges, one of which was decided last week in favor of sending more water downriver to meet salmon needs while keeping enough in the Upper Klamath Lake to meet the needs of endangered suckers.
What had looked like it could be a really good water year on the Klamath Reclamation Project, might be something else with irrigators’ loss of an estimated 100,000 acre-feet of water they said would be required to meet the flow requirements to mitigate the outbreak of fish disease in the lower river.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick ruled that the “flushing flows and emergency dilution flows” would reduce disease among coho salmon and that the federal agencies had violated the Endangered Species Act by not sending more water downstream. He gave the Bureau of Reclamation, which determines water allotments on the Klamath Project, instructions to increase flows and ordered the parties involved to report back by March 9 on developing a plan to do so.
It was one of the two big recent water stories. The river flow decision invites a reference to the other — the “takings” case being argued in the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., on a lawsuit brought by irrigators who lost water — and crops and income — in the infamous 2001 shutoff of water on the Klamath Project.
That claim is based on the contention that irrigators should be compensated for losses when the federal government cuts water to irrigators in favor of endangered fish. It also could have a much wider impact than the Klamath Basin. It’s possible that the decision, when it comes, could say that the Bureau of Reclamation has to consider the cost to irrigators whenever and wherever it reduces their water from federal projects.
It’s only our speculation, but the Klamath River decision by Judge Orrick decision last week looks a lot like a “takings” case.
Meanwhile, the water struggle goes on, battling through courts, dividing factions and spending funds on legal fees that could be better used elsewhere.
Much of the issue goes back to promises made many years ago by the federal government, basically saying there was plenty of water for everyone. That came at a time when such things as tribal treaty rights and environmental impacts didn’t get much attention. Obviously, that’s changed, and it needed to.
We hope though, that the federal government’s role in creating the problems that exist in the Klamath River Basin, make it step forward to play a major role — and a just one — in bringing the issues to a fair conclusion.
The H&N View represents the opinion of the Herald and News Editorial Board. Its members are Publisher Mark Dobie, Editor Gerry O’Brien and Forum Editor Pat Bushey, who wrote today’s editorial. Community advisers to the editorial board are Sergio Cisneros, Jenine Stuedli, Tracey Liskey and Ernie Palmer.