Irrigators from Southern Oregon and Northern California are in federal court this week. They’re arguing the U.S. government owes them millions of dollars in compensation for water shut-offs 16 years ago.
A major drought in 2001 made water in the Klamath Basin scarce. Federal regulators cut off irrigation to hundreds of farms to ensure there was enough water in the rivers for endangered salmon and other fish.
The farmers say the irrigation water is property that was taken without compensation. This is prohibited by Constitution’s 5th Amendment.
“The issue is the fundamental issue of who owns the water and how does that water get used when there’s an over-appropriated situation like we have in the Klamath," says Glen Spain with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
Spain's organization has intervened against the irrigators in the case. He says salmon have rights to the water as well.
The case is being heard in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. A ruling in favor of the irrigators could make it much more expensive for the federal government to protect Pacific Coast salmon runs.