The Klamath Tribes are in agreement with the outcome of the ‘Takings’ case – a federal case involving water allocation in the Klamath Project in 2001 – and see it ultimately as a victory for their senior in-stream water rights.
The case – Baley vs. United States – was ruled in 2017 by Judge Marion Horn as being in favor of senior water rights held by the tribes. An appeal of that ruling by farmers and ranchers with a stake in the case was denied last week by the U.S. Court of Appeals, affirming tribal rights to the water.
Sue Noe, affiliated with the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and legal counsel for Klamath Tribes, said that Klamath Project irrigators, who are junior water users to the tribes, “were not entitled to receive any Project water in 2001.”
The Klamath Tribes have been recognized by the state of Oregon as the most senior water right-holders since spring 2013.
“The decision hinged on recognition of the senior tribal water rights of the Klamath Tribes and other downriver Klamath Basin tribes,” Noe said, in a release.
NARF represented the Klamath, Hoopa Valley and Yurok Tribes, as well as the the United States and environmental groups, submitted amicus briefs in the case, which H&N attended in Washington, D.C., in January and February 2017.
Tribal Chairman Don Gentry also shared his excitement about the ruling in the release.
“We are pleased that the court affirmed the lower court decision and once again recognized the seniority of the Klamath Tribes’ water rights,” Gentry said in a news release. “Most importantly, this decision again recognizes the significance of our treaty rights, which include protecting the endangered C’wam and Koptu (Lost River and shortnose sucker) and our other treaty resources in (Upper) Klamath Lake.”
Noe emphasized the ruling was not a surprise to the tribes.
“The courts continue to rule in favor of the Klamath Tribes water rights because it is the only interpretation that makes sense,” Noe said in a news release. “The Tribes have lived in the Klamath Basin for millenia. In an 1864 (federal) treaty they relinquished millions of acres of their homeland to the United States in exchange for guarantees, including protections for the tribal right to harvest fish from in their streams and lakes. There is no expiration date on those treaty promises, and they cement the Tribes top water rights in the region.”
NARF is a non-profit that focuses on applying existing laws and treaties to ensure that governments fulfill their obligations. The organization has provided assistant to tribes, organizations, and individuals without access to representation since 1970.