FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SEPTEMBER 8, 2022
FEDERAL COURT CLOSES DOORS TO IRRIGATORS
Today, the United States Court of Appeals issued a decision that denies Klamath Project irrigators the right to challenge federal agency decisions in court. The ruling, in a case titled Klamath Irrigation District, et al. v. United States, et al., found that irrigation parties could not file legal challenges to federal agency actions or decisions that the irrigators believe are unlawful, unless tribes in the Klamath Basin voluntarily agree to join the case as parties. https://somachlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Dkt-62-1_09082022-Ninth-Circuit-Court-Opinion-00136875xD2C75.pdf
“This is hard to process,” said Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) President Ben DuVal. “Any number of tribal and non-tribal parties can sue the government to take water away from irrigators, but irrigators can’t sue to protect their own interests in water.”
KWUA was one of several parties that filed a lawsuit in 2019 against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), with a parallel lawsuit also filed by Klamath Irrigation District (KID). The irrigation parties claimed that Reclamation adopted decisions and actions that were outside its legal authority, to the detriment of Project irrigation.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe and the Klamath Tribes were allowed to intervene in the cases for the limited purpose of arguing that the cases should be dismissed. They contended that under federal court procedural rules, they are necessary parties such that the lawsuits could not go forward without them being joined, and that because they declined to join the lawsuits voluntarily, the cases had to be dismissed.
The Federal District Court for the District of Oregon, where the cases were filed, agreed, and dismissed the cases. Today, the Ninth Circuit upheld the dismissal, and the cases cannot go forward.
“We believe the government is acting outside its legal authority,” said DuVal. “We may be right, or we may be wrong. But it’s beyond disappointing that we can’t get our day in court.”
Rich Deitchman, an attorney who represented KWUA and other districts in the appeal, said that he, and the attorneys representing KID in its appeal, will confer with their boards of directors about whether to pursue the cases further. Legally, he said, the irrigation parties could seek rehearing in the Ninth Circuit or petition the United States Supreme Court to review the decision. “It’s too early to say whether or not this is the end of the road in this case,” said Deitchman.
Irrigators are also evaluating how any other existing lawsuits have the potential to provide judicial resolution of the issues they believe are important.