Klamath Irrigation District wins in water rights lawsuit

Lawsuit says stored water in the Upper Klamath Lake Reservoir is property of the People of the State of Oregon.

Posted: Aug 2, 2020 10:21 AM

KLAMATH COUNTY, Ore.-- A Marion County Circuit Court Judge has ruled in favor of Klamath Irrigation District (KID) in a lawsuit about water stored in Upper Klamath Lake for irrigation.

Link River Dam impounds water in Upper Klamath Lake. In its 2013 order in the Klamath Basin water rights adjudication, the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) ruled that only irrigation users have water rights to the stored water. The Bureau of Reclamation releases water from storage to artificially increase Klamath River flows without a water right.

Earlier this year, KID went to court and got an order for OWRD to take exclusive charge of Upper Klamath Falls Lake Reservoir (UKL) and deliver the water to the people, under their water rights.

OWRD continued to allow the Bureau of Reclamation to use stored water in UKL for artificial enhancement of stream flows. For this, KID took OWRD back to court. In its ruling last week, the court found that “OWRD’s failure is a deprivation of a precious resource” and “an infringement of property rights of established users.” Upon such basis, the Court has indicated that it will enter an injunction to compel OWRD to stop the release of stored water from UKL without a water right.

Further legal proceedings must occur before any such injunction is entered.

District leadership says the impact of the ruling on 2020 water availability is currently unknown. Farmers should not change plans or assume they will receive more water this year, because of the ruling.

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