An Oregon Supreme Court decision in the case Klamath Water District et al v. United States, a case referred to it (partially) from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, is being roundly praised by water user advocates.
The Oregon court said the referrals "ask whether, as a matter of state law, the farmers and irrigation districts that use water from a federal reclamation project have an equitable property interest in a water right to which the United States holds legal title and whether an equitable property interest in a water right is subject to adjudication in the ongoing Klamath Basin water rights adjudication."
In background, the court said "The Federal Bureau of Reclamation manages the Klamath Project, which stores and supplies water to farmers, irrigation districts, and federal wildlife refuges in the Klamath River basin. The plaintiffs in the underlying federal litigation are farmers and irrigation districts that use water from the Klamath Project for irrigation and other agricultural purposes. As a result of drought conditions in 2001, the Bureau terminated the delivery of water to plaintiffs that year in order to make water available for three species of endangered fish. Claiming a property right in the water, plaintiffs brought an action in the United States Court of Federal Claims, alleging that the United States had taken their property in violation of the Fifth Amendment and, alternatively, that the United States had breached its contractual obligation to deliver water to them. The United States asked the federal claims court to abstain from deciding plaintiffs' takings claim until an ongoing state water rights adjudication determined what, if any, property rights plaintiffs had in the water from the Klamath Project."
In response, the court concluded: (more…)