Tribe suing Biden administration over Oregon water to farmers
by Mike Sunnucks Herald & News
The Klamath Tribes are suing the Biden
administration over its decision to release some water from
Upper Klamath Lake for use by drought-besieged farmers and
That’s not the only grief the U.S.
government is getting over its decision to release a small
amount of water in the Klamath Basin as the region faces
severe drought conditions.
Oregon-based Klamath Tribes contend
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to release
50,000-acre feet of water for the Klamath Project violates
the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The tribes are made up of
the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin peoples in southern Oregon
and northern California.
The Klamath Tribes argue the release
of water will hurt the Lost River sucker fish and shortnose
sucker fish. Both are listed as endangered species. Don
Gentry, the Oregon’s tribe’s chairman, has written the heads
of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service notifying them of the intent to sue the government
alleging ESA violations. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will
provide 50,000 acre-feet of water this season to Klamath
Project irrigators as the region grapples with a third
consecutive year of extreme drought conditions.
That is about 15% of what farmers say
they need from the Klamath Reclamation Project, which gets
irrigation allotments from the dammed river water in Upper
Klamath Lake. Farmers did not get any water allocations last
year as the region faces the severe drought conditions.
Gentry said in his April 14 letter to
USBR Acting Commissioner David Palumbo and USFWS Director
Marsha Williams that a planned Klamath water release will
negative impact spawning for the sucker fish. It will be the
third lawsuit the tribes has brought against the federal
government in the last five years, Gentry said in his
“We implore you to rescind the 2022
plan and operate the project this year consistent with the
law, which requires the prioritization of the needs of the
C’Waam and Koptu,” Gentry said using native language terms
to describe the suckerfish. The fish also have spiritual,
cultural and historical significance to the tribes.
In an interview with the Herald and &
News, Gentry said he was disappointed in the Biden’s
administration’s decision to release Klamath water. “We want
people to follow the law,” Gentry said. He said the U.S.
government has a moral obligation to abide by the ESA.
On the other side of the proverbial
river, the region’s two Republicans lawmakers — U.S. Reps.
Doug LaMalfa, who represents Northern California, and Cliff
Bentz, who represents Southern Oregon and the Klamath Basin
— want the federal government to find a solution for the
water and drought issues that takes into account the
importance of local agriculture.
They wrote the Biden administration
earlier this month pushing for one-third of the available
Klamath water to be released for farming.
The local lawmakers want to see the
U.S. government adopt broader policies to release more water
so farmers can boost production with Russia’s war in Ukraine
sparking concerns about food shortages and inflation (which
is already at 40-year highs in the U.S.).
The war and U.S sanctions on Russia
and its ally Belarus are raising concerns about shortages
and rising prices of commodities such as wheat, corn,
fertilizers and crude oil.
“President Biden has repeatedly warned
of coming food shortages. Food prices are hitting record
price surges. Over 275 million people are facing food
insecurity,” said LaMalfa Friday, referencing pending
international meetings on potential food shortages.
The California Republican wants the
U.S. to boost domestic food production — and that takes more
“Unfortunately, the federal and state
governments are making sure that they don’t have the water
needed to grow food due to misguided and ineffective
environmental flows,” LaMalfa said in a statement. “At a
time like this, with so much at stake, why shut down
domestic food production? The growing season is now. We need
an urgent response to the looming food shortage crisis. The
only rapid, reasonable, and sound solution is to deliver
water to U.S. farmers now.”
Paul Simmons, executive director of
the Klamath Water Users Association, told the Herald and
News he is also hoping to see more civility and
collaboration on the water crisis which stems from severe
“Those things seem to be in shorter
supply than water,” said Simmons of the need to find common
ground. “That’s what we need,”
The water users group — which
represents farmers and other irrigation users — is also
upset with the smaller allocation this year after no water
was released in 2021. They worry about the future for local
farmers in the basin and one of the larger agricultural
regions in the Pacific Northwest.
The Yurok Tribe, whose
California-based reservation is located along a stretch of
the Klamath River, worries about river flows impacting
“The Bureau of Reclamation’s 2022 Plan
provides a reduced flushing flow to the upper Klamath River
and protects minimum flows at Iron Gate Dam," Yurok Vice
Chairman Frankie Myers said in a news release. "Although we
are gratified that the river is afforded minimal protections
under this plan, it is no time for celebration. Salmon runs
will continue to suffer under these conditions, and as
climate change intensifies, such protections will become
“The Upper and Lower Klamath Basin
once functioned as an integrated system that provided
abundant salmon, suckers and waterfowl with minimal
intervention. The fact that these systems now appear to be
in conflict with each other is a direct result of the
ecological collapse brought on by water withdrawals, the
loss of Lower Klamath and Tule Lakes, dams and mining. It is
our duty to bring this system back into balance and we will
never stop working toward that goal," Myers said in a
statement to the Herald & News,
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