Oregon Farmers Win Reprieve in Suckerfish Water War

The Federal Bureau of Reclamation announced Wednesday that beleaguered farmers in Klamath Falls, Ore., will be receiving water this year in time for the 2002 planting season, which officially begins next month.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, John Keys, the head of the Reclamation Bureau, said the move will not guarantee enough water for the farmers. But if current weather patterns and water levels hold it should be plenty, he said.

"It's water. There are never guarantees when dealing with a natural resource," he said. Keys said "we've put together a plan that maintains enough water for the fish and still delivers water to the farmers in the area."

The decision was partly based on a recent National Academy of Sciences report suggesting that the endangered suckerfish for which the water was diverted last year doesn't need as much water as previously thought. The report, along with increased rainfall in the area recently, has the bureau planning to release the water to farmers in late March or early April.

The bureau does not have a precise figure for water allotment, but says it will be enough for farmers to grow crops. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries Service will have to review the Reclamation recommendation, but sources tell Fox News that they have already signed off on the figures.

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 around Klamath Falls so there would be enough water in the basin for the suckerfish. Angry farmers responded by prying open the headgates to an irrigation canal, prompting the bureau to call in police.

Officials expect environmentalists to carry through with threats to sue to stop the release.