Bid to postpone Klamath water shutdown falls short
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A group of ranchers and farmers has failed to postpone an order that has resulted in irrigation water shutdowns in the Upper Klamath Basin.
About 40 ranchers had asked a judge to stay a finding by the Oregon Department of Water Resources that quantified water rights held since "time immemorial" by the Klamath Tribes.
Due to water shortages, the tribes issued a "call" to enforce their water rights that resulted in state water authorities shutting down irrigation for farmers who rely on water from the Sprague, Williamson and Wood rivers.
The ranchers disagreed with how the state had quantified the tribal water rights and requested a stay of the order until the adjudication of the water dispute could be completed in court.
Klamath County Circuit Court Judge Cameron Wogan denied the group's two stay requests, because "contrary to law, they would elevate petitioners over everyone so they would be the only ones to get extra water if downstream rights are curtailed as they request."
The adjudication process is expected to last another 5 to 10 years, he said.
Oregon water law holds that a person can use water on a "first come, first served basis," but the stays would violate this doctrine because "those with more senior and better rights would not get any part of the water as they should."
The judge also held that anybody seeking such a stay must agree to be liable for all the damages that result from the order not being enforced. The amount also isn't limited to the bond that would be posted, Wogan said.
The portion of the ruling pertaining to payment for damages could still apply to two other requests for stays requested by other parties in the case.
Elizabeth Howard, attorney for the group of 40 ranchers and farmers, said she didn't have a comment about possible next steps in the case.
If the judge's ruling stands, it effectively "shut the courtroom doors" for her clients, as they won't remain economically viable and be able to participate in the adjudication, she said.