WASHINGTON -- March 30 -- News Advisory:
U.S. Court of Claims in Washington, D.C., to Hear Arguments by Klamath Basin Irrigators Claiming to Own Klamath Basin Water
Commercial fishermen granted unprecedented intervenor status to make case for lower river stakeholders who rely on Klamath salmon
Attorneys representing commercial salmon fishermen, Klamath Basin irrigators and federal government
Court of Federal Claims, 717 Madison Place, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, March 30, 10 a.m.
Earthjustice is representing the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) in opposing the notion that property rights are taken when water is left in the river to protect threatened salmon and other species. In this case Klamath irrigators claim they are owed a billion dollars because water deliveries were curtailed to protect endangered salmon during the summer of 2001. PCFFA's has intervened to protect its interests in healthy fisheries that depend on adequate water flows in the Klamath River. The Klamath irrigators claim is against the federal government, which opposes paying them. However, the federal government recently settled a similar case over the protests of fishermen and conservationists. PCFFA has intervened on the side of the government to insure their interests are represented in any trial or settlement.
In a case with a billion taxpayer dollars at stake, a federal claims court ruled in February that commercial salmon fishermen have the right to fully participate and defend against Klamath irrigators seeking compensation for receiving less than 100 percent of water deliveries from a federal water project in 2001. The ruling marks the first time any group trying to protect fish and wildlife has been allowed to intervene as a full party in a case in the Court of Claims.
The federal claims court deals with questions of monetary compensation from the federal government.
During the summer of 2001, in a near-record drought year, government officials reduced diversions of the Klamath River to farmers in order to sustain federally protected coho salmon downstream. These irrigators claimed the lack of water caused them economic losses and subsequently filed suit seeking taxpayer compensation for an unconstitutional "taking." When commercial fishermen and conservation groups moved to participate in the case, the irrigators strenuously objected
Farmers in California's Central Valley brought a similar constitutional "takings" claim that was accepted by a different judge in the court of claims. That decision was widely perceived by conservationists and academics to be wrong but instead of appealing, the federal government recently settled the claim and paid the irrigators' $16 million. This development greatly increases the peril for west coast salmon fishermen who rely on salmon from California's Central Valley.
By allowing PCFFA to intervene in Klamath case, the Court of Claims indirectly addressed such a situation, stating that the interests of PCFFA "give rise to the distinct possibility that a ruling against the United States would have significant impacts on the allocation of the water in the Klamath Basin and corresponding negative impacts on PCFFA's fishing interests."
Wednesday's hearing will address several key motions in the case, which could well decide the future course of litigation.