KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this week threw out the Bush administration's 10-year plan to settle a water dispute between Oregon farmers and environmentalists.
"This is a step backward as far as I'm concerned," said David Solem, a spokesman for the Klamath Irrigation District. "It puts everybody back in a bind. It doesn't give the process a chance to play out."
The struggle began when irrigation water for 1,400 Oregon farms was shut off as a result of a 2001 summer drought to protect endangered fish such as the Coho salmon ( search).
• Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Dan Springer.
The fight between environmentalists (search) and family farmers drew national attention from their bucket brigade protest over the loss of water.
The Bush administration plan was designed to allocate water to farmers, but over several years, would draw down the availability of that water and increase it for the fish. Environmentalists said it would be 2010 before nearby rivers would be high enough to support endangered fish (search).
"The decision was very specific in saying that the Bush administration could not ignore the fact that they were killing off generations of salmon before they actually provided the water that is needed," said Jim McCarthy of Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law firm.
Other than environmentalists, commercial fishermen (search) also support having more water for the salmon. Some say low water levels kill off some fish.
"This year, we lost the best two months of the season primarily due to low numbers of Klamath Fall chinook," said Newport fisherman Jeff Feldner.
Pollution, parasites and ocean conditions might also have an impact on the salmon.
Irrigators and farmers in the Upper Klamath say the court is failing to let the Bush plan work and in the process, the agriculture industry is being blamed for all the salmon problems hundreds of miles downstream.
The reclamation project that brought hundreds of homesteaders started in the 1920s. Farmers were promised water to grow food and maintain a wildlife refugee. Now, they're afraid the water may get shut off again.
"We can't farm as usual," said John Crawford, a Klamath farmer. "We can't support projects as we would as usual. We can't do a lot of things that constitute our daily lives."
A federal judge will decide on the remedy requested by the appeals court. While environmentalists say they want more water for the Coho salmon, farmers hang their livelihoods on the hope that they don't lose their business.
Click in the video box above to watch a report by FOX News' Dan Springer.