Court Upholds Bush-Era Decision To Take Away Farmers’ Water To Save Endangered Fish

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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter
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A federal claims court affirmed a 2001 Bureau of Reclamation decision to shut off farmers’ irrigation water in California and Oregon without compensation Friday.

Judge Marian Blank Horn ruled that the farmers were not owed anything in return for the loss, due to the “senior water rights” of the Klamath River Basin’s Klamath, Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes, E&E News reports.

The Klamath River project is responsible for supplying water to the area’s 200,000 acres of farmland, its tribes, and three endangered species of fish.

“[The] plaintiffs had no entitlement to receive any water before the government had satisfied what it determined to be its obligations under the Endangered Species Act and its Tribal Trust responsibilities,” Horn wrote in the court decision. “[The] plaintiffs junior water rights did not entitle them to receive any Klamath Project water in 2001.”

The Klamath Irrigation District and the area’s individual farmers estimated their losses to be about $28.6 million. The lawsuit sought to collect full repayment, plus an unknown amount of interest compiled over 16 years of litigation.

The Klamath farmers were seeking compensation under the Fifth Amendment, which says that private property cannot be taken for public use “without just compensation.”

The Bush administration withheld 336,000 acre-feet of water — enough to fill an area the size of a football field 336,000 feet high — from the farmers in 2001 because the Klamath Project reservoir lacked enough water to completely satisfy the Bureau of Reclamation’s responsibility to local tribes and endangered species.

“According to [the government], because there was not even enough water to fully satisfy the tribes’ senior water rights in 2001, [the farmers], as junior rights holders, were not entitled to receive any water and, thus, no taking occurred,” Horn wrote, according to E&E News.

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