Fishermen lose out; federal judge orders Klamath River water to farmers

Associated Press / SFGate
KAREN GAUDETTE, Associated Press Writer
Friday, May 3, 2002
2002 Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- A federal judge on Friday rejected an effort by commercial anglers, tribes and environmental groups seeking to force the government to release more water to the Klamath River instead of diverting it to farms.

Commercial fishermen sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the National Marine Fisheries Service last month, arguing that water being stored for farmers should be released to help young salmon migrate to the ocean.

The Klamath straddles the California-Oregon state line, and its waters irrigate crops as well as provide a home to the endangered coho salmon and other fish.

In recent days, biologists and U.S. Forest Service employees have rescued hundreds of baby salmon and other fish stranded in puddles along the banks of the Klamath.

But U.S. District Judge Saundra Armstrong said Friday there is not enough scientific evidence to prove the salmon need more water at this time.

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Asssociation that represented farmers at the Oakland hearing, said in a statement they were pleased with the ruling.

Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations that filed the suit, said a decision about whether to appeal the judge's ruling would not be made until she sees the written ruling.

"The sad part is, we have salmon being stranded right now. We have fish being rescued," she said.  In March, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told the Bureau of Reclamation to begin full irrigation deliveries to the 1,400 farms on the Klamath Reclamation Project, straddling the state line east of the Cascade Range.

They were responding to pleas from farmers who experienced a shortage of irrigation water last year due to record drought. Last year, the bureau sharply cut back irrigation to maintain water levels set under the Endangered Species Act for endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.

The suit claimed springtime flows for the Klamath River this year have been as little as 60 percent of the water required for salmon to survive, and  sought an increase to at least the same amount that was provided last year.

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/news/archive/2002/05/03/national1

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On the Net:

Klamath Basin: www.klamathbasincrisis.org

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations: www.pcffa.org