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Water squeeze in Oregon’s Klamath Basin pits ranchers against tribes, both with strong ties to the land

Agriculture, cattle, Klamath Tribe, Lawsuits, Water rights

PNP comment: This is a fairly good background article on the lawsuit and eventual settlement in favor of the Klamath Tribes being allowed to take other water right users’ water allotments away. — Editor Liz Bowen

Oregon Live.com

By Scott Learn, The Oregonian
Follow on Twitter
on July 06, 2013 at 12:00 PM, updated July 08, 2013 at 6:30 AM

SPRAGUE RIVER — A summer evening on Jim and Caren Goold’s  front porch. The river meanders through their cow pasture, a curly blue ribbon framed by foothills dotted with ponderosa pine. And, yes, the cattle are lowing.

It’s about as pastoral as a scene gets. But the upper Klamath Basin, already three months into a drought emergency, is far from peaceful this summer.

Two parties with strong ties to the land, the upper basin ranchers and The Klamath Tribes, are pitted against each other for limited water, the latest skirmish in one of the nation’s most persistent water wars. And deep historical divisions stand in the way of compromise.

In late June, a state watermaster handed Jim Goold a yellow card ordering him to shut off irrigation for the first time in his 40 years on the 617-acre ranch.

“It’s beyond frustrating,” Caren Goold says. “We have all this wonderful water going by and we can’t touch any of it.”

The Goolds worry they’ll lose pasture for 300-plus cows, their income and their ranch, where Jim’s parents are buried out back. They see a future land grab through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, with land values falling as irrigation water evaporates.

Here’s where history’s twists come in. Much of the upper basin, including the Goolds’ ranch, was once The Klamath Tribes‘ reservation land. The federal government “terminated” the tribes in 1954, a move that included cash payouts, but is widely seen as a tribal disaster.

This year, fortunes sharply changed. The state of Oregon ruled that the tribes’ “time immemorial” water rights on the former reservation remain intact, giving the tribes a firm upper hand. Last month, tribal leaders called their water rights to sustain their hunting and fishing grounds, triggering the shutoffs.

Twenty miles down Sprague River Road, at the tribes’ offices in Chiloquin, Perry Chocktoot  talks about his own attachment to the land, too. He grew up hunting and fishing here. His grandmother taught him how to smoke and can fish –110 minutes, 15 pounds of pressure.

Chocktoot, the tribes’ cultural and heritage director, says court cases and water rights decisions should have warned the ranchers what was coming. But too many of them view Indians as “drunken idiots,” he says. “And, guess what, we’re not.”

“We’re here by the gift of our creator to help the community,” he says. “That mindset has never been reciprocal. They had a chance to effectively work with the tribes, but they said not just no, but hell no.”

Dry times

Absent a judicial reprieve or a settlement, the water rights decision means irrigation with river water will be shut off to hundreds of ranchers this summer, shriveling pasture for 70,000 to 100,000 cattle.

GS.10025953A_GR.KLAMATHFALLS-02.jpgView full size

So far, state watermasters have shut off water to roughly 300 irrigators on the Sprague and Williamson rivers, with more tributaries of Upper Klamath Lake still to be evaluated.

It’s an echo of Klamath water fiasco a decade ago.

In 2001, the U.S. government cut off water to irrigators who tap Upper Klamath Lake as part of the century-old federal reclamation project. The shutoff stemmed from Endangered Species Act listings of coho salmon and two species of suckers and strict ESA requirements on federal projects.

The next year, with intervention from Dick Cheney, the farmers got water instead, and 30,000 chinook salmon died in the lower Klamath River.

That crisis pushed project farmers to negotiate with the tribes, federal and state governments and others to share water and restore riverside habitat. The 2008 Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement was coupled with a plan to remove four PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River by 2020, which would be the largest dam removal in U.S. history.

But this year is different. Cattle ranchers above the lake, outside the reclamation project, were free to irrigate despite the ESA listings — until this year’s water rights decision.

Many of the ranchers are still fighting, in court and on the streets. On Monday, they rallied in Klamath Falls, driving cattle trucks down Main Street.

They also have challenged the water rights decisions in Klamath County circuit court, asking for a stay this summer. They say the state gave the tribes more water than they need to support hunting and fishing habitat.

The tribes’ water calls would reduce irrigation even in normal water years, the ranchers argue. State officials figure tribal rights fall well below normal streamflows, but the ranchers think the state’s flow estimates are too high.

Roger Nicholson, who leads two ranching groups, raises cattle on 3,000 acres near Fort Klamath. Some of that land came from tribal members, he says, but most has been in his family since the 1890s.

The tribes’ water calls affect his draw even on streams outside the former reservation, he says, since those flows are needed to meet the water rights the tribes won downstream.

The water rights decisions were “a travesty of justice,” Nicholson says, and the shutoffs are “an economic catastrophe beyond compare.” Affected ranches cover more than 100,000 acres, ranching groups estimate.

“It’s bankrupting a whole community,” Nicholson says.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Pearl Rains Hewett  •  Apr 28, 2017 @3:09 pm

    Waiting For The Water Master

    Posted on April 18, 2013
    Commentary by Pearl Rains Hewett

    I AM COLLECTING RAIN WATER (catch as catch can)

    (to see if I have violated a WA State Water law)
    Yesterday I worked in my garden
    I planted potatoes, green pole beans, harvested rhubarb and Swiss chard, pruned my apple tree, got my zucchini, sweet pod pea, tomatoes plant area cleaned up. I still need to weed my raspberries and blackberries.


    I have been/am paying the city of Port Angeles nearly $1128.00 a year for the WATER RELATED COSTS on my utility bill and NOW an additional $108.00 for STORMWATER run off on my 2013 Clallam County property tax.

    That is $1236.00 year in WATER RELATED COSTS for about $40.00 a year worth of WATER consumption. WATER SHORTAGE? conserve water? I always have.

    So my plan is,
    (who knows for sure what the WA STATE WATER laws are?)
    COLLECT RAINWATER NOW, fill one gallon milk containers with rainwater and distribute the containers around in my garden. It serves a two fold purpose, now, during the day the sun heats the water, during the night the plants stay warm from the water containers. The more containers I fill now, the more gallons of RAINWATER I will have to water my garden this summer when it is hot and dry.

    (to see if I have violated a WA State Water law)

    RCW 90.03.090
    The water master shall have the power, within his or her district, to arrest any person in the act of violating any of the provisions of this chapter and to deliver such person promptly into the custody of the sheriff or other competent officer within the county and immediately upon such delivery the water master making the arrest shall, in writing and upon oath, make complaint before the proper district judge against the person so arrested.

    [1987 c 202 § 250; 1917 c 117 § 12; RRS § 7362. Formerly RCW 90.08.030.]

    RCW 90.03.040

    RCW 90.03.400

    Crimes against water code — Unauthorized use of water.

    (1)(a) The unauthorized use of water to which another person is entitled or the willful or negligent waste of water to the detriment of another, is a misdemeanor.

    (b) For instances of the waste of water under this subsection, the department may alternatively follow the sequence of enforcement actions as provided in RCW 90.03.605.

    (2) The possession or use of water without legal right shall be prima facie evidence of the guilt of the person using it.

    (3) It is also a misdemeanor to use, store, or divert any water until after the issuance of permit to appropriate such water.

    [2003 1st sp.s. c 15 § 2; 2003 c 53 § 418; 1917 c 117 § 40; RRS § 7392. Formerly RCW 90.32.010.]


    Reviser’s note: The effective date of 2003 c 53 § 418 is July 1, 2004. However, 2003 c 53 § 418 was amended by 2003 1st sp.s. c 15 § 2 which has an effective date of September 9, 2003. Consequently, the effective date of this section is September 9, 2003.

    Intent — Effective date — 2003 c 53: See notes following RCW 2.48.180.

    Punishment of misdemeanor when not fixed by statute: RCW 9.92.030.


    Intent — 1987 c 202: See note following RCW 2.04.190.

    Eminent domain — Use of water declared public use.

    The beneficial use of water is hereby declared to be a public use, and any person may exercise the right of eminent domain to acquire any property or rights now or hereafter existing when found necessary for the storage of water for, or the application of water to, any beneficial use, including the right to enlarge existing structures employed for the public purposes mentioned in this chapter and use the same in common with the former owner, and including the right and power to condemn an inferior use of water for a superior use. In condemnation proceedings the court shall determine what use will be for the greatest public benefit, and that use shall be deemed a superior one: PROVIDED, That no property right in water or the use of water shall be acquired hereunder by condemnation for irrigation purposes, which shall deprive any person of such quantity of water as may be reasonably necessary for the irrigation of his land then under irrigation to the full extent of the soil, by the most economical method of artificial irrigation applicable to such land according to the usual methods of artificial irrigation employed in the vicinity where such land is situated. In any case, the court shall determine what is the most economical method of irrigation. Such property or rights shall be acquired in the manner provided by law for the taking of private property for public use by private corporations.

    [1917 c 117 § 4; RRS § 7354. Formerly RCW 90.04.030.]


    Eminent domain by corporations: Chapter 8.20 RCW.

    Application — 2009 c 332: “Except for section 14 of this act, this act applies only to adjudications initiated after July 26, 2009.” [2009 c 332 § 21.]

    Purpose — Short title — Construction — Rules — Severability — Captions — 1987 c 109: See notes following RCW 43.21B.001.

    Additional powers and duties enumerated — Payment for from reclamation account: RCW 89.16.055.

    Application of RCW sections to specific proceedings: RCW 90.14.200.

    Schedule of fees: RCW 90.03.470.

    from Pearl L. Hewett

    Port Angeles WA 98362

    PS: Better check your trees for tent caterpillars. (get them while they are small)
    My apple, flowering plum and cherry trees are covered.


    Pearl Rains Hewett is an activist and researcher. She has posted excellent information on her website: http://www.behindmyback.org.

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