Farmers' legal foundation files petition to feds seeking aid for Klamath Basin

A legal foundation representing farmers and residents from several irrigation districts in the Klamath Basin has filed a formal petition with federal authorities asking for help in preserving their rights to water. That water was ordered shut off under the Endangered Species Act, an order which affects 200,000 acres.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., July 3, 2001 — Representing two water districts from the beleaguered Klamath Basin, the Pacific Legal Foundation today filed a formal petition to Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Commerce Secretary Don Evans urging a convening of the Endangered Species Committee — a seven-member panel commonly called the "God Squad" — to overrule a water shut-off ordered under the Endangered Species Act that has left 200,000 acres straddling the California-Oregon border without water.

PLF filed the petition on Tuesday on behalf of the Klamath Irrigation District in Oregon and the Tulelake Irrigation District in California to challenge the federal government policies.

"A 'fish first, people last' line of thinking has caused a human tragedy in the Klamath Basin. This is a predicament of the government's making and government needs to fix it," said PLF Attorney David Haddock, who prepared the petition on behalf of Klamath area water districts.

In April 2001, the federal Bureau of Reclamation shut off water to the basin to maintain water levels for a threatened sucker fish and salmon. Since that time, the local economy has been adversely affected, farm families' futures and secure retirements have been jeopardized and 1,400 farms are out of business this year.

"A balanced approach to environmentalism is one that recognizes that human communities shouldn't be threatened with extinction," Haddock said.

In its petition to the federal officials, PLF contends that water can be delivered to the farmers while still preserving the threatened species. A senior official from the Department of Interior recently stated concerns that the science which formed the basis for the Biological Opinion that led to the water shut-off in Klamath was "questionable" and requires further review. PLF believes this opens the door for a comprehensive review by the Endangered Species Committee and will ultimately lead to turning on the taps to allow water to run again to the fields and farms in the basin.

From the steps of the California State Capitol where PLF earlier called on Governors Davis and Kitzhaber to act, PLF attorney Anne Hayes said, "The most endangered species in Klamath now is its people, the farmers who have been producing food for America's dinner tables for decades. As PLF files this petition today, we encourage state and federal officials to do the same — urge the God Squad to resolve this catastrophe."

Upon receipt of the application, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Commerce Secretary Evans, are required to notify the Governors of the affected states that they may recommend individuals to be part of the committee. They must also publish receipt of the application in the Federal Register.

Under the law, during the 20-day period following receipt of the petition, Norton and Evans must determine whether the agency in question has carried out its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act in good faith, with a "reasonable and responsible effort to develop and fairly consider modifications or reasonable and prudent alternatives." The Interior and Commerce Secretaries must also determine whether all legal requirements have been met by the parties submitting the petition. Following these initial determinations, a public hearing must be held and a report submitted within 140 days. A decision from the full committee on the ESA exemption is due 30 days later.

The petition and all documents related to PLF's work to provide relief in the Klamath Basin are available on the web at www.pacificlegal.org.

Founded in 1973, Pacific Legal Foundation is the oldest, largest, and in the words of the Washington Post, "perhaps most influential" public interest law firm dedicated to Endangered Species Act reform, limited government and property rights.

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