SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge heard arguments in a case filed by the Klamath Tribes of southern Oregon seeking greater protections for endangered sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake.
San Francisco District Judge William Orrick listened to the arguments Friday in a lawsuit that requests an injunction to hold more water in the lake for shortnose and Lost River suckers, a culturally significant food for the tribes, the Capital Press reported.
However, farmers and ranchers worry the injunction would shut off surface water irrigation in the Klamath Project, costing about $400 million in lost annual economic value.
Orrick did not issue a ruling, and is considering a motion to move the case to a different court. He did not give a timetable for his decision.
The non-ruling means irrigators in the Klamath Project will be allowed to continue watering their crops — for now, said Mark Jackson, deputy director of the Klamath Water Users Association.
"Things are looking pretty promising in the short-term," he said.
The lawsuit names the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service as defendants.
The Klamath Water Users Association, Sunnyside Irrigation District and California farmer Ben DuVal filed to intervene in the tribes' lawsuit. They argue an injunction would have a devastating effect on local agriculture, and claim there is no scientific evidence linking higher water levels in Upper Klamath Lake with healthier sucker populations.
Both the shortnose and Lost River suckers — known to the tribes as C'waam and Koptu — were listed as endangered in 1988.
The tribes' lawsuit, filed in May, claims the bureau continues to operate the Klamath Project "in a manner inimical to the continued existence and ultimate recovery of the C'waam and Koptu and in direct violation of the (Endangered Species Act)."
Don Gentry, tribal chairman, said the intent is not to harm agriculture, but to do what is necessary to protect the fish.
If the Klamath Tribes succeed with their injunction for more water in Upper Klamath Lake, Johnson said it would essentially shut down surface water irrigation for about 360 square miles (932 square kilometers) in the project.
Information from: Capital Press, http://www.capitalpress.com/washington