GRANTS PASS, Ore. - A federal judge Monday denied a desperate plea for water from farmers in the Klamath Basin, saying the Endangered Species Act clearly gives threatened and endangered fish the highest priority during this drought.
Ruling in Eugene, U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken wrote that the Klamath Water Users Association and others were unlikely to prevail in their lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which controls the major irrigation project in the Klamath Basin.
Aiken denied a request for an injunction restoring irrigation flows.
Angered by the decision, farmers said they would continue to fight, despite the judge's advice to give up lawsuits and seek a long-term solution to recurring water shortages through negotiations with the government, Indian tribes, salmon fishermen and conservationists.
"We're not done yet," said Don Russell, chairman of the Klamath Water Users Association. "This is far too big to let it ride and let it go.
"We're talking human lives here," Russell added. "This is private lands. … We paid for this."
The farmers plan to hold a demonstration May 7 in Klamath Falls, symbolically dipping water out of Upper Klamath Lake, passing it by bucket brigade down Main Street, and pouring it into an irrigation canal.
Farmer Steve Kandra said low interest loans made available after the Department of Agriculture declared the Klamath Basin a disaster area would do little for farmers already leveraged to the limit, and faced with having to give back money they borrow for operating expenses.
"Basically, what I have is the government owes me money," Kandra said. "That's what they need to be doing, compensating me for that."
The lawsuit sought to reverse the Bureau of Reclamation decision April 7 to allocate nearly all the water in the Klamath Project to endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake, the project's primary reservoir, and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River, which drains the basin.