FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 10, 2023
Director of Water Policy
Court Hears Klamath Water Case; Frustration with Lack of Plan for 2023
A federal court heard arguments today on whether to issue a preliminary injunction limiting irrigation and wildlife refuge uses of water from the Klamath Project in 2023. The motion, filed by the Yurok Tribe and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, claims that the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) cannot be trusted to limit water deliveries in accordance with an Interim Operations Plan (IOP).
Judge William H. Orrick, U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of California, indicated that he would not grant the motion, but left open the opportunity for parties to return to court after Reclamation has adopted an actual Klamath Project operations plan for 2023.
The litigation move comes at a time when there is abundant water in the Klamath Basin. “It’s inconceivable that we are in court when we should be irrigating and producing food,” said Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) Vice President Jeff Boyd, who farms in the Project area. Similarly, Judge Orrick, who has heard several Klamath Project matters, noted that he had not expected to see a Klamath case this year.
In 2020, Reclamation adopted an IOP for the Klamath Project controlling the amounts of water made available in Upper Klamath Lake, the Klamath River, and for irrigation and wildlife refuges. The IOP is the basis for annual operations plans based on year-specific hydrologic conditions.
Since that time, drought conditions have required Reclamation to deviate from the specific terms of the IOP, which it has done with Temporary Operations Plans. During the early winter of 2022-2023, drought conditions persisted. Ultimately, Reclamation reduced IOP-based flows in the Klamath River for four weeks. The Yurok Tribe filed its motion for a preliminary injunction.
The preliminary injunction motion asks the court to order limitations on diversions that are not stated in the IOP. “Basically, the plaintiffs are asking the court to write a new plan and micromanage the Klamath Project during 2023,” said KWUA Water Policy Director Moss Driscoll.
The past several weeks have been characterized by favorable, wet weather, and snowpack conditions in the mountains have been as high as 200 percent of normal.
The IOP went back into effect on April 1. If it had followed the IOP, Reclamation would have issued a 2023 operations plan providing an irrigation supply of 285,000 acre-feet, which is still well below irrigation needs. Instead, Reclamation informally announced an “initial” supply of 215,000 acre-feet but did not write an operations plan as in past years. In the meantime, it has followed the IOP to the letter in terms of releases of Klamath River flows.
To date, during 2023, 215,000 acre-feet of water has been released to the Klamath River. Diversions for irrigation have been 6,000 acre-feet.
Judge Orrick indicated that he did not see a basis to issue a preliminary injunction based on the information before him. However, he required Reclamation to submit a final 2023 operations plan, and left open to the parties the possibility of asking the court to grant some kind of relief at that time.
“It would have been great if Reclamation had done what they were supposed to and issued a final plan on time rather than being intimidated by politics and lawsuits,” said Mr. Boyd.