A federal court today ruled that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is in violation of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) in its operation of the Klamath Project in southern Oregon and northern California. The court ordered the Bureau to temporarily halt irrigation deliveries in the Klamath basin in order to protect coho salmon listed under the ESA. The lawsuit was brought by a broad coalition of fishing and conservation groups seeking an end to Bureau practices that have decimated the coho and other imperiled wildlife in recent years.
“The court’s ruling ensures that the water needs of coho salmon are not lost in the shuffle in this very tight water year,” said Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “The Klamath Project has directed the basin’s scarce water for too long to inefficient and marginal irrigation operations, at the expense of the whole downriver salmon fishing economy. Water must be shared fairly between salmon, other endangered species, Native American tribes, and agriculture. The court’s ruling restores some balance to this situation.”
The court found that BOR “failed to comply with [the ESA] before implementing its 2000 Operations Plan for the Klamath Project.” Indeed, the judge stated that BOR’s evasion of the ESA “easily might be construed as a deliberate (and successful) effort to avoid” compliance with the law. The Court ordered the BOR to stop all irrigation deliveries from the Klamath Project, whenever flows drop below designated minimums to protect coho salmon, pending compliance with the ESA to ensure that Klamath Project withdrawals do not harm ESA-listed species.
“The law is crystal clear that the Bureau must consider the needs of the salmon and other wildlife species before devoting the lion’s share of the basin’s scarce water to other uses,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which represented the coalition in the lawsuit. “The days of putting irrigators ahead of all other interests in the basin are officially over.”
“Its grossly unfair to destroy the economic and ecological base of the lower Klamath basin in order to subsidize irrigation practices that grow crops for which there is no real market,” said Wendell Wood of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. “Healthy fish runs and healthy agriculture can flourish together in the Klamath basin if we use our water fairly and efficiently.” Wood pointed out that many upper basin irrigation operations are heavily subsidized or economically marginal, and in some instances, grow crops that cannot be sold.
The plaintiffs in the case include Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Klamath Forest Alliance, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Northcoast Environmental Center, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon, and Oregon Natural Resources Council. The coalition was represented in the case by attorneys Jan Hasselman and Todd True of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund in Seattle.
A copy of the ruling available from Brian Smith, Earthjustice, 415-627-6700