Government Floats Plan to Supply Klamath Basin Farmers

Full water deliveries might be made to Klamath Basin farmers this year after a summer of conflict over government efforts to protect wild fish at the farmers' expense.

The plan, proposed Monday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, must be reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its impact on endangered suckers and by the National Marine Fisheries Service for its effect on threatened coho salmon.

The proposal drew immediate objections from commercial fishing and environmental groups, who said they would sue if necessary to ensure enough water was allocated for the fish.

Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations said the plan tries to assert that "all the water belongs to irrigators."

The Klamath project was begun in 1907 to irrigate the arid Klamath Basin on the Oregon-California line. The project last year became the center of a bitter water fight among farmers, the federal government, Indian tribes, commercial fishermen and environmentalists.

Last summer, environmental groups won a lawsuit that forced the government to shut off irrigation water to about 220,000 acres so there was enough water for the fish. Angry farmers responded by prying open the headgates to an irrigation canal, prompting the bureau to call in police.

This year, the mountain snowpack is above average, leading to hopes that there will be enough water to satisfy the needs of farms and fish.

The Bureau of Reclamation plan leaves it up to other federal agencies to find water for threatened and endangered fish that might be harmed.

"This is a recipe for more conflict over Klamath," said Steve Pedery of WaterWatch of Oregon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.