The Associated Press
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. A judge ruled that a federal irrigation district did not break any contracts with farmers when it shut off irrigation so there would be enough water for threatened and endangered fish.
The ruling by Judge Francis M. Allegra in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., was his second against the farmer's organization, the Klamath Irrigation District. Last August he ruled the farmers had no property rights to the water and denied their claim for $100 million in damages.
"Here, as plaintiffs readily admit, there are no unmistakable terms in any of the contracts precluding the government form exercising its sovereign powers indeed the water shortage clauses in most of the contracts reflect the opposite intent," the judge wrote.
During a drought in 2001, the Bureau of Reclamation shut off water to most of the 150,000 acres of the Klamath Reclamat-ion Project, which irrigates 1,000 farms straddling the Oregon-California border.
The Endangered Species Act forced the shut-off to maintain adequate water levels for endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, the irrigation project's main reservoir, and threatened salmon in the , the lake's natural outflow.
An Oregon State University study put crop losses between $27 million and $46 million.
Congress authorized millions of dollars in aide to farmers who lost crops.
"This ruling should finally shut the door on water disputes from 2001," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, which intervened on the side of the government in the case. "People are working together to bring the water budget sheet back into balance throughout the whole basin to prevent these types of crises in the future."
Klamath farmer Mike Byrne and Bill Ganong, an attorney representing farmers, did not immediately return telephone calls for comment.