Bush's budget includes funds for Klamath

Issue Date: February 4, 2004
Christine Souza

President Bush, in his budget proposal for 2005, dedicated $105 million for Klamath Basin habitat restoration and water improvement projects.

"President Bush's budget proposal is really encouraging because of the types of actions proposed in this package such as removing Chiloquin Dam, doing collaborative fish restoration projects and providing funding for the wa"er bank and for the EQIP (Environýental Quality Incentives Program)," said Dan Keppen, Klamath Water Users Association executive director. "The budget reinforces the theme suggested by the National Academy of Sciences that the people of the Klamath Basin need to do things on a watershed-wide basis and we need collaboration and cooperation between the states and the federal government to solve our problems."

President Bush's proposed investment is a 38 percent increase over the 2003 budget and a 21 percent increase over this year's funding. The increase resulted from recommendations of the Cabinet-level Klamath River Basin Federal Working Group, which the president created in March 2002.

The $105 million included in the president's proposal for the Klamath Basin calls for ensuring an unprecedented level of habitat restoration and water quality and quantity improvements. It features the following increases over the 2003 Klamath-related funding:

  • $5.9 million increase in the Fish and Wildlife Service's collaborative partnerships for restoring fish habitat;
  • $4.6 million to purchase critical land and return it to natural wetlands, enhance populations of endangered suckers, and increase the amount of water that can be stored in Upper Klamath Lake;
  • $2.5 million increase for new studies of the endangered sucker species and studies on water quality aspects of Klamath Lake; the increase in funds responds to recommendations of the National Research Council and will develop better information on which to base endangered species recovery actions;
  • $2.1 million increase to remove the Chiloquin Dam and reopen 70 miles of sucker habitat on the Sprague River;
  • $2 million increase to bolster coho salmon recovery, habitat restoration and science in lower basin tributaries;
  • $2.9 million increase for water banks with broadened eligibility among farmers and ranchers who voluntarily conserve water;
  • $12 million increase for U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service's on-farm assistance to private landowners in the Klamath Basin for conservation systems planning and implementation, irrigation water management, upland watershed management, and wetland, wildlife, and conservation buffer enhancement.

Additional funds for Klamath-related projects are likely to be available after California allocates its share of Pacific Coastal Salmon Restoration Funds later next year. The president proposes to increase this program by $10 million in 2005.

Although the Tulelake Growers Association is pleased with the president's commitment to the local community and is in favor of funding additional restoration projects, many growers said they would like to see funding for increased water storage.

"Restoration efforts are essential, but additional water storage and reconsultation on the flawed biological opinions are key. Because of the other interests in our water, storing additional water and fixing the agenda-driven biological opinions will ensure the survival of our agricultural community," said Deb Crisp, Tulelake Growers Association executive director. "We would like to see a deep water, off-stream storage project."

Additional water storage could become a reality for the Klamath Basin irrigators. Growers are currently supporting a feasibility study to determine if Long Lake in Oregon would be a proper place to store water. The lake could store up to 350,000 acre-feet of water without a dam and 500,000 acre-feet with a dam, Crisp said.

In other Klamath Basin news, a federal judge recently ruled that a number of water districts and their water users in the San Joaquin Valley must be compensated for water taken by the United States under the federal Endangered Species Act. This case stands as a shining example for Klamath Project irrigators who are pursuing a similar claim, according to Keppen.

"The landmark ruling on liability of the federal government for water taken for the benefit of the ESA confirms the Fifth Amendment principle that when the government takes property in the pursuit of its goals, it is bound to justly compensate the owners of that property," Keppen said.

Judge John Wiese of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in December of 2003 determined that a number of State Water Project water districts in the Central Valley and their water users must be compensated for water taken by the United States under the ESA. In his decision, Wiese concluded that the fair market value of water taken was approximately $14 million at the time of the take. It is expected that the final judgment in the case, with interest and litigation expenses, will be approximately $26 million.

Water districts and water users brought the lawsuit to recover compensation under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for a taking of the water for federal purposes by the federal government. The court found that the federal government took more than 300,000 acre-feet of water between 1992 and 1994 to protect species listed under the ESA.

"The federal government is certainly free to preserve the fish; it must simply pay for the water it takes to do so," Weise wrote in his first ruling in the case concerning the taking of water for ESA purposes.

Attorney Roger Marzulla, who represents Klamath Basin irrigators in Klamath Irrigation District et al. v. United States, hailed the ruling as "a reaffirmation that the federal government cannot take property without just compensation to its owners."

In the pending Klamath case, individual Klamath Project water users and water districts seek compensation for taking of their property rights (water rights) in 2001, when project supplies were curtailed to meet conditions imposed by federal fisheries agencies. The case also includes claims based on Klamath River Basin Compact provisions which require just compensation for impairment of water rights.

"This is very good news certainly because it is precedent setting," Crisp said. "The federal government took the water and therefore had to pay for it. I believe that because they took our water, certainly they should pay for it as well."

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.