Ranchers and farmers in the Klamath River area scored a major judicial victory Friday when a federal district court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Yurok Tribe. The case challenged the Bureau of Reclamation’s management of water in the Klamath River. The plaintiffs claimed the government’s management of the Klamath Project violated their fishing rights in 2002 and resulted in a die-off of salmon on the lower Klamath River.
Oakland, Calif., Judge Saundra Armstrong agreed with motions put forth by the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) and the federal government that there was no evidence linking the bureau’s management of water with the die-off.
The Klamath Project delivers irrigation water to 220,000 acres of farm land in Oregon, Washington, and southern California. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is working to maintain the economic viability of agriculture and ranching communities throughout the West by minimizing undue regulatory burdens.
“We are pleased Judge Armstrong recognized the absence of evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims,” says Jeff Eisenberg, NCBA director of federal lands. “Producers need their operations to be viable while simultaneously caring for the environment and protecting fish and wildlife. Obviously there are watershed issues in the Klamath area that need to be dealt with, but we look forward to addressing these needs outside the litigation process.”
Dan Keppen, KWUA executive director explained, “We are sympathetic toward the tribe’s needs, and our attorneys tried to work with all interested parties to reach a win-win position in this case. Still, litigation will not resolve their concerns. There are other ways to constructively reach a remedy that addresses all watershed needs without needless lawsuits and divisive press attacks.”
A 2003 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report "Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin: Causes of Decline and Strategies for Recovery," found no substantial scientific support linking irrigation in the Klamath basin to the welfare of endangered fish. The scientific panel suggested a number of factors – other than water and flow levels – could be to blame. These include water temperature, oxygen levels, algae population, the number and size of dams along the waterway and development in the area.