State right to protect water adjudication

April 8, 2003

The H&N's view

Herald and News

Klamath Falls, Oregon

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For 25 years, Oregon has been laboring though conflicting water claims in a process known as "adjudication," in which the state's Water Resources Department decides where people stand in line for the Basin's water.

The state has dealt with about 75 percent of the 5,600 contested cases, and spent $10 million to $15 million.

If those figures didn't say that water's vital to the Basin residents, the battles over water during the past few years certainly should.

Thus the state of Oregon is right to try to protect the adjudication process from harm from a lawsuit bought to increase water in the Klamath River to benefit fish. In general, the water pits upstream interests -- such as farmers and ranchers -- against downstream interests, such as fishermen and tribes who live along the river.

The state underlined the importance of water rights by filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the California U.S. District Court in which groups supporting higher stream flows are suing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The state doesn't take a stand on whether more water should be sent down the Klamath, but doesn't want unintended consequences rolling back on a process that has already been long, costly and litigious.

The plaintiffs' attorney said that they aren't out to harm the adjudication process -- they just want to get more water in the river.

That, in itself, could have a large impact on the water that can be used for Basin agriculture. Klamath Basin interests primarily have lined up to support the Bureau. Plaintiffs include fishermen, some Indian tribes and environmental organizations, using the Endangered Species Act.

Adjudication could be a key part in dealing with water issues. Once it's decided who owns what water, the marketplace can help deal with water distribution. If adjudication is damaged by the current lawsuit, that's less likely to happen. That's why the step taken by the state to intervene in the case is warranted.

The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board, which consists of Publisher John Walker, Editor Tim Fought, City Editor Todd Kepple and Opinion Editor Pat Bushey. Most of the editorials are written by Bushey.

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