Stipulation in Yurok Tribe’s Lawsuit Avoids Injunction Hearing and Risk
March 30, 2020
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Simmons, Executive Director (916) 769-6685
A federal judge has approved a proposal to withdraw a legal action that could have potentially sent an additional 50,000 acre-feet (AF) of Upper Klamath Lake downstream, avoiding a potential “worst-case” scenario for local irrigators.
On March 27, parties in a federal lawsuit brought by the Yurok Tribe and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association filed documents that put the case on hold and withdraw a motion for a preliminary injunction that otherwise would have been decided before this irrigation season. Federal District Court Judge William Orrick approved the stipulation the same day.
“The plaintiffs had asked for an injunction that could have reduced irrigation water by 50,000 acre-feet (AF) in this already-bad year,” said Klamath Irrigation District and Klamath Water Users Association Board member Jerry Enman. “Fortunately, that worst-case scenario was avoided.”
This action followed the Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation’s) release last week of a proposed interim Klamath Project operations plan that would be in effect through September 2022. That plan increases flows to the Klamath River, but with less annual impact to irrigation than the injunction that was being requested. That impact will be 23,000 in some hydrologic conditions, and no impact in other conditions.
The lawsuit was filed last summer, and challenged an alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) under the five-year plan adopted in April. Later, it was learned that an outside consultant had provided federal agencies with erroneous data that had been used in their ESA analysis. Based on the finding, Reclamation announced that it would re-initiate the ESA consultation process, and it proposed a new plan last December.
Reclamation’s initially-proposed December plan was set aside and replaced by the new plan released on March 27, which must be formally reviewed and approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service and Fish and Wildlife Service.
“For agriculture, the net result is very similar to Reclamation’s proposed plan from last December,” said KWUA President Tricia Hill.
Mrs. Hill stated that overall, there has been an “unfortunate and very disappointing” series of events related to the recent ESA consultation process, but KWUA, which intervened in the lawsuit, recognized the court stipulation as the best way to deal with a bad situation.
“We do not like the place it leaves us, but it’s the least of a few evils, and at least creates time to do things right the next time,” she said. Hill also added that it was very important to irrigators to avoid the kind of disastrous delay in starting irrigation that occurred under an injunction that Judge Orrick issued in 2017.
Reclamation has signed an agreement with KWUA and Project districts to provide irrigators greater participation in the ESA process, according to KWUA Executive Director Paul Simmons. “That hasn’t occurred recently because they had to act so fast. We can’t change the past but we can do much better in the future.”