KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) — A judge on Friday denied motions to temporarily stop the state of Oregon from shutting off irrigation on ranches in the upper Klamath Basin to satisfy water rights the Klamath Tribes are using to protect fish.
The Herald and News reported that Klamath County Circuit Judge Cameron Wogan denied motions filed by some upper basin ranchers seeking a temporary stay to enforcement of water rights. Proceedings on a permanent stay have not been scheduled, said court administrator Val Paulson.
Since the tribes issued what is known as a call last week to enforce those rights, the Oregon Water Resources Department has been notifying ranchers with junior water rights they must stop irrigating.
They started Wednesday on the Sprague River, telling ranchers with water rights dating to 1864 they must turn off pumps and shut headgates. Watermasters are expected to move on to the Williamson and Wood rivers in about a week.
Lawyers for the state opposed the motions to stop the shutoffs, filing legal papers that argued the law is clear: when water is in short supply due to drought, junior water rights must be shut off to satisfy the senior rights in areas that have gone through a legal process known as adjudication. The state also argued that there is no provision in the law for a judge to grant a temporary stay.
Lawyers for the ranchers, the state of Oregon and the tribes did not immediately respond to telephone calls and emails seeking comment.
The Klamath Basin has been the site of some of the most bitter water battles in the nation as scarce water is shared between protected fish and farms.
In 2001, angry farmers confronted federal marshals called in to guard headgates shutting off water to the Klamath Reclamation Project, a federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border, to protect fish. The next year, water was restored to farms, but tens of thousands of adult salmon died downstream in the Klamath River.
The current shutoffs are the first for the upper Klamath Basin, where 38 years of litigation ended in March with recognition by Water Resources that the tribes have the oldest water rights on rivers flowing through lands that were once their reservation.
Ranchers in the region are split between some trying to overturn the tribes’ senior water rights, and others who favor a negotiated settlement with the tribes over water use and environmental restoration.