Magistrate Judge issues ruling on Klamath Drainage District water rights

KWUA Press Release

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – On September 11, Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke issued a final ruling in a lawsuit brought by the federal government against the Klamath Drainage District (KDD). The ruling holds that KDD may not divert water from a canal that it owns, using water rights that are in KDD’s name, unless the U.S. Buruea Bureau of Reclamation authorizes it to do so.

“This is an extraordinary expansion of federal power,” said KDD President and family farmer, Bill Walker.

For over a century, KDD has diverted water from the Klamath River to serve approximately 27,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Klamath County, Oregon. KDD has contracts with Reclamation that allow KDD to use water released from Upper Klamath Lake, subject to required payments to the United States. In the 1970s, KDD pursued a back-up to its contract with Reclamation. It obtained water rights in its own name and can divert the water either through a federally-owned facility or through a canal built and owned by KDD. 

In 2022, Reclamation ordered KDD not to divert water, contending that KDD could only divert water left over after Reclamation furnished water for various fish species under Reclamation’s Endangered Species Act (ESA) obligations and water had been delivered to Project contractors with higher priority contracts. In most recent years, this amount of water is zero.

KDD contended that for water diverted under its water rights through its facilities, KDD is no different than the many other parties who divert water in the Klamath Basin without the need for federal permission. The Magistrate Judge’s ruling agrees with the United States and enjoins KDD from diverting any water from any location without federal authorization.

“This ruling will send shock waves throughout irrigated agriculture,” said Mr. Walker. “All state water interests should be concerned about this water grab and infringement on state rights.” KDD’s board of supervisors will decide whether to appeal the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

About Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA)

Since 1953, the KWUA is a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation representing the interests of Klamath Project farmers and ranchers. KWUA members include rural and suburban irrigation districts, public agencies, and private individuals who operate on both sides of the California/Oregon border. These entities and individuals typically hold water delivery contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The Project is home to over 1,200 family farms and ranches; KWUA’s member districts deliver irrigation water to over 170,000 acres of some of the most incredibly productive farmland in the Western United States.

KWUA’s mission is to preserve and enhance the viability of irrigated agriculture for our membership in the Klamath Basin for the benefit of current and future generations.

KWUA is governed by an eleven-member Board of Directors representing Project districts. The Association employs an Executive Director and staff to execute policy decisions.

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