dispute should be decided in court
with all government activities, the Klamath Project should be
operated in accordance with law, not illegal shut-off orders,
illegal water diversions, nor thuggish federal extortion
by Klamath Irrigation District Executive Director Gene Souza,
Herald and News 8/27/22
Laws and contracts help ensure dispute
resolution and promotes the maintenance of domestic
tranquility. As with all government activities, the Klamath
Project should be operated in accordance with law, not
illegal shut-off orders, illegal water diversions, nor
thuggish federal extortion tactics.
The Klamath Tribes and Klamath
Irrigation District (KID) both have water rights in Oregon’s
Upper Klamath Lake. While the Klamath Tribes water rights
are for protection of fish species, KID.’s water rights are
for irrigation, and both rights are valid property rights
entitled to legal and mutual respect. The Endangered Species
Act also imposes requirements that must be legally
understood and respected.
Instead of honoring the water rights
of the Klamath Tribes and KID by faithfully complying with
the Endangered Species Act, the federal government is
disregarding those rights, illegally diverting water from
Oregon’s Upper Klamath Lake to California with no water
right at all, and baselessly asserting the Endangered
Species Act authorizes its illegal behavior at our expense.
When situations like this arise, state
and federal law both contemplate the conflict will be
resolved by Oregon’s water regulators. However, we have both
observed the Oregon agency responsible for protecting the
water rights of the Klamath Tribes and KID is looking the
other way – doing nothing to protect tribes interests, our
needs, water resources of the people of Oregon, nor our
ecosystems (including fish species) from the federal
government’s illegal actions.
Now, Reclamation is trying to stand
the situation on its head, distract the public, and drive a
wedge between the neighbors of the Klamath Tribes and
farmers. It is doing this by directing Oregon irrigation
districts to illegally deny water to farmers and falsely
claiming these districts are breaking the law if they fail
Understanding Reclamation’s directives
to be illegal, irrigation districts have repeatedly asked
Reclamation to provide legal justification for their water
shut-off orders. KID has stated it would comply with a
legitimate legal argument. Tellingly, Reclamation has
Instead, Reclamation has thuggishly
coerced compliance with its illegal directives by
threatening financial harm to other farmers. Specifically,
Reclamation has threatened that if KID does not follow its
illegal shut-off orders, it will refuse to make financial
payments it promised to other farmers in other irrigation
districts in exchange for these farmers’ commitment not to
use any irrigation water this year – a commitment these
other farmers have honored to their own financial detriment
and an act that was encouraged by our neighbors.
To avoid public accountability,
Reclamation has seized upon the complexity of the situation
to spin a false narrative. The narrative is that Oregon
irrigation districts continuing to divert minimal quantities
of water from Upper Klamath Lake in accordance with their
water rights, contracts, and the Endangered Species Act will
harm endangered species important to the Klamath Tribes.
But this narrative is false.
The irrigation diversions that have
occurred are legal and do not violate the Endangered Species
Act – Reclamation has not even asserted otherwise.
Furthermore, if any diversion from
Oregon’s Upper Klamath Lake is causing harm to endangered
species important to the Klamath Tribes, it is Reclamation’s
own massive illegal diversions of water to California
without a water right, in violation of water rights held by
the Klamath Tribes and farmers.
Reclamation’s massive illegal
diversions of water to California and illegal water shut-off
orders to irrigators should be the story here and are the
proper source of public concern.
That’s because Reclamation’s cynical
strategy is working. Evidence of this came Thursday when the
Klamath Tribes issued a news release incorrectly accusing
the Klamath Irrigation District of making “illegal”
diversions of water from Upper Klamath Lake in violation of
lawful Reclamation orders. But as explained above,
Reclamation’s orders are what is illegal, not KID’s lawful
use of water in accordance with its water rights, its
contracts, and the Endangered Species Act.
Furthermore, if there is any diversion
of water the Klamath Tribes should be concerned with, it is
Reclamation’s massive illegal diversions of water from
Oregon to California without any water right whatsoever in
violation of the Klamath Tribes own water rights, as well as
those of Klamath farmers – issues the Klamath Tribes’ news
release says nothing about.
It should be obvious to any reasonable
person that getting mad, pointing fingers, spinning
narratives, and threatening people is not the way to sort
this situation out. We are cognizant of the activities which
occurred in 2001 which hurt and divided our communities.
Instead, KID requests to peacefully go
to court and have an unbiased decisionmaker resolve our
dispute in accordance with law. Unless or until this occurs,
it is impossible for the parties involved in the situation,
let alone the public, to truly know what is lawful and what
is not, who is right and who is wrong. In a nation of laws,
going to court is how conflicts are peacefully sorted out.
This is the role of the government to resolve disputes and
ensure domestic tranquility.
Legal resolution is what the Klamath
Irrigation District has been wanting, and asking for, in the
days, weeks, months, and years leading up to the present
conflict. The problem is the United States has made it
nearly impossible for our complaints to be heard in court.
We have to get the United States’ own
permission to litigate against them. Consequently, KID has
repeatedly asked Reclamation to facilitate resolution of
this conflict by filing a lawsuit against KID that will
resolve the present and ongoing conflict.
To date, Reclamation has refused –
resorting instead to the types of tactics described above,
making it impossible for anyone to know who to believe and
perpetuating the problem, rather than resolving it. This is
in spite of the fact that there is a contract between
Reclamation and KID that defines the parties relative rights
and responsibilities concerning the operation of certain
irrigation works, which Reclamation is readily capable of
If there is one thing people of
different viewpoints should be able to agree upon it is
this: Reclamation needs to bring a lawsuit against KID so
that their relative rights and responsibilities under their
contract may be determined in accordance with law by an
impartial court. Unless or until this occur, all anyone can
reasonably expect is more of the same.
The Klamath Project should be operated
in accordance with law, not illegal shut-off orders, illegal
water diversions, and thuggish extortion tactics.
The federal government’s recent resort
to extortion tactics and unwillingness to bring legal action
against KID to resolve the present dispute benefits no one
and only serves to confirm KID’s strong belief that the
federal government is exceeding its authority and conducting
itself in a manner that is highly illegal.
While KID is in receipt of a letter
from Reclamation asserting it is presently in litigation
against KID. concerning the matters at issue, it is not.
This is merely another obfuscation.
Gene Souza is the executive director of the Klamath
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