Klamath Basin community files lawsuit seeking compensation for water cutoff

Klamath Basin farmers and other groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims today alleging that the federal government owes them compensation for cutting off irrigation water this year.

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore., Oct. 11, 2001 — Klamath Basin farmers, ranchers, small businesses and irrigation districts filed a lawsuit in the United States Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. today alleging that the federal government owes them compensation for cutting off irrigation water this year.

The plaintiffs allege that the government's action constitutes a taking of private property. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits the government from taking private property without just compensation.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced April 6, 2001, that 90 percent of farmers and ranchers drawing water from the Klamath River Basin irrigation project would be left dry this year to maintain water for endangered sucker fish and sustain water flows for coho salmon.

"The Klamath Basin economy has been devastated and the lives of over a thousand farmers, ranchers, business people, and school children thrown into chaos because of the government's action," said Bob Gasser, a Klamath Basin businessman and leader of community efforts to publicize the water crisis in the region.

Plaintiff James L. Moore said the legal action is necessary to resolve the situation so that preparations, including planning and financing, for the 2002 growing season can begin. "We want to continue to be a part of the agricultural community that produces quality, safe and relatively inexpensive food for America," Moore said.

The federal project has provided an efficient system for the distribution of water for agriculture and the environment for nearly 100 years. The government's ruling was the first time that water has been cut off to agriculture and the national wildlife refuges in the Reclamation Project.

On April 30, 2001, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims handed down a decision in the Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District v. United States suit. The Tulare suit also involved the taking of water rights of agricultural water users for endangered species. In that case, the court held that the water users are entitled to compensation for water taken to protect endangered fish.

"Farmers and ranchers in the Basin have worked with all parties to share water in the past," said Moore. "It's unfortunate we have to file a lawsuit, but the unexpected and damaging decision to cut off our water left us no other course of action."

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