Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Challenges. Discussion »
OKLAHOMA CITY - Water rights are important to most Indian Nations. The legal battle by one Indian tribe to establish and quantify its water rights took a significant turn last week. A 36-year water rights dispute in Southern Oregon recently produced a milestone victory when an Administrative Law Judge in the State of Oregon's Klamath Basin Adjudication granted the Klamath Tribes' claims to water bodies throughout their homeland area.
The Klamath Tribes were represented by Walter Echo-Hawk Jr. of the Oklahoma law firm Crowe & Dunlevy, who served as a trial litigator on the tribes' litigation team.
“The Klamath Tribes are elated by this complete victory,”
said Echo-Hawk, an of counsel attorney at Crowe & Dunlevy. "The rulings award enough water to restore habitat throughout the river basin; and this not only protects the tribal way of life, but may also propel the Klamath Tribes' water settlement legislation recently introduced in Congress to provide sustainable water use for all basin water users."
The rulings are a critical step in the 36 year general stream adjudication.
Klamath Basin Restoration
Administrative Law Judge Joe Allen confirmed all of the tribes' claims for six large water bodies located in the former Klamath reservation area. His rulings effectuated the Klamath Treaty of 1864 by awarding to the Tribes sufficient instream flows and water levels necessary to create a productive habitat for animals, plants, and fish so that the Klamath can exercise their treaty hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering rights.
The rulings encompass the Williamson, Sycan, Sprague and Wood Rivers, along with their tributaries, as well as the Klamath Marsh and over 200 springs scattered throughout the former reservation. Another decision is expected in April 2012 that will address tribal claims for the waters of Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River.
The State of Oregon manages surface and groundwater through the Oregon Department of Water Resources. The water agency commenced the Klamath Basin Adjudication in 1974 to determine who has legal rights to surface water in the Klamath River Basin and to quantify their water rights.
posted December 14, 2011 8:57 am est
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