A Native American tribe in Oregon is weighing its legal options after the US government said it would release water from a federally operated reservoir to farmers downstream along the Oregon-Latin border. California.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Native American tribe in Oregon said Tuesday it was weighing its legal options after learning the U.S. government plans to release water from a federally operated reservoir to farmers downstream along the Oregon-California border amid a historic drought.
Even limited irrigation for farmers using water from the Klamath River on around 300 square miles of crops puts two critically endangered species of fish in danger of extinction because water withdrawals come at peak spawning season, the Klamath tribes said. This summer’s water allocation plan, released by the Bureau of Reclamation last week, will send about 50,000 acre-feet of water to farmers in the Klamath Reclamation Project, less than 15% of what they would get in a normal year.
An acre-foot is the amount needed to cover one acre of land with water one foot deep.
It’s the third year in a row that extreme drought has affected farmers, fish and tribes who depend on the 257-mile-long Klamath River in an area where even in good years there isn’t enough water to meet competing demands. Last year, no water passed through the main irrigation canal of the Klamath Reclamation Project, and the water crisis briefly became a political flashpoint for anti-government activists.
At the same time, the critically endangered sucker fish central to the culture and religion of the Klamath tribes did not have enough water to spawn and thousands of juvenile salmon downstream died without tank release. to support the health of the Klamath River.
The Klamath Tribes said in a statement that the decision to release water for about 1,000 farmers under the massive federal agricultural project was “perhaps the saddest chapter in a long history of violations of the treaty” and blamed the current water crisis on “120 years of ecosystem mismanagement at the hands of colonial society.”
The inland tribes, based in Chiloquin, Oregon, include the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin peoples of southern Oregon and northern California. The Klamath have fought to keep enough water in the reservoir and surrounding rivers for two distinct species of suckerfish to survive and reproduce, with limited success.
Fish is important to tribal cultural and religious practices and was once a staple food. The Klamath stopped catching sucker fish in the 1980s as their numbers dwindled. The Klamath Tribes now run a captive breeding program to ensure the survival of the species and note that no juvenile suckerfish have survived in the wild in recent years.
“We have nothing left to ‘compromise’ with,” the Klamath Tribes said in a statement. “Global warming is certainly a global problem, but so far its local consequences appear to be exacerbating existing and systematic inequalities between us and society at large.”
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation declined to comment on Tuesday, citing the possibility of litigation.
The Klamath Tribes believe this year’s plan violates a biological advisory under the Endangered Species Act, which says the bureau must keep the reservoir, called Upper Klamath Lake, at a minimum depth for sucker fish . The notice recognizes that in some cases – such as this year – even maintaining this minimum depth may be impossible, but in these cases the office should do everything in its power to comply.
“We feel like the reclamation has pushed us into a corner in making this allotment decision that is so directly contrary to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act,” said Jay Weiner, an attorney. water rights representing the Klamath tribes. “For them to extract additional water…is a risk to the very existence of species that the tribes cannot live with.”
Last weekend, federal regulators also released a three-day water pulse from the reservoir below the Klamath River to bolster the health of northern California salmon populations that have been decimated by a parasite that develops in warm, slow-moving waters.
The amount was half of what would be released in a normal year, and the Yurok Tribe, who are trying to keep salmon populations afloat, said they were also deeply disappointed with the water allocations from this season.
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