On Nov. 14, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued an opinion in the longstanding case Baley v. United States that concluded the Klamath Basin tribes – the Yurok, Hoopa Valley and Klamath – had senior, federally reserved water rights that predate the water rights of Klamath Irrigation Project irrigators.

A Yurok press release added that the decision said the tribes’ water rights require at least enough in-stream water to ensure the continued existence of tribal trust species listed under the Endangered Species Act.  

This means two things, said the Yurok press statement:

That Yurok Tribe water rights require the Bureau of Reclamation to provide, at minimum, enough water to the Klamath River to support salmon habitat and ensure the persistence of coho salmon.

And that the Klamath Irrigation Project water withdrawals can occur only when there is enough water in the river to ensure the persistence of the fish.

“This decision is very important to define our rights in the basin vis-à-vis other interests,” said Amy Cordalis, the Yurok Tribe’s general counsel.

“By definitively affirming that our water rights ensure, at a minimum, the persistence of (Endangered Species Act)-listed species, rather than fighting irrigators or the federal agencies about the existence of our rights, we can move forward in determining what water the ailing fish populations need …

“This ruling affirms the duty of the United States to ensure that the fish in the river are taken care of first before other water uses.”  

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