- By Native News Online Staff
WASHINGTON — American Indian tribes in California’s Klamath Basin praised Monday’s decision by the United States Supreme Court not to hear the Klamath Project irrigators’ Fifth Amendment water rights case, Baley v. United States.
By not hearing the case, the Supreme Court upheld the Klamath Tribes’ treaty water rights as the most senior water rights in the Klamath Basin. These water rights are critical to protect the tribes’ fisheries and traditional way of life.
“Bailey is an important affirmation of our tribe’s priority right to the water to sustain our fisheries,” Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Byron Nelson Jr. said on Monday.
Klamath Project irrigators sought nearly $30 million in compensation from the United States government for the Bureau of Reclamation’s curtailment of water deliveries during a severe drought in 2001.
In 2017, the US Court of Claims ruled that the Klamath Tribes and downriver Klamath Basin tribes have senior water rights that take priority over those of the Project irrigators.
In 2019, the US Court of Appeals affirmed that decision and went on to declare that the Klamath Tribes’ water rights include Upper Klamath Lake waters and that, in 2001, the Klamath Basin tribes were entitled to—at the least—the amount of water required to meet Endangered Species Act requirements.
With the Supreme Court’s refusal to review the lower court’s decision, the case is closed, and the decisions from the lower courts stand.
“We’re pleased to have this case put to rest and the seniority of the Klamath Tribes’ water rights recognized and reinforced. The courts in this case were correct about our treaty rights, which include protecting and sustaining the endangered C’wam and Koptu in Klamath Lake. We look forward to healing and restoring our tribal fisheries,” Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry stated.
Although the decision hinged on recognition of the senior tribal water rights, the case technically was between the irrigators and the United States.The Klamath Tribes participated as amicus curiae (friend of the court) to assure that the courts did not ignore the role of tribal water rights.
The Klamath Tribes were represented by the Native American Rights Fund.
“We were proud to represent the Klamath Tribes throughout this 19-year-long litigation. The law is very clear about the Klamath Tribes’ senior water rights in the region. The courts have been very clear as well. We are glad the courts reached the right outcome in this case and that tribal rights and sovereignty have been affirmed,” NARF Executive Director John Echohawk said.
More Stories Like ThisMontana Water Court Decides Tribal Water Rights in First-Of-Its-Kind Decision
State of South Dakota Doubles Down on Sovereignty Issue; Will Not Honor Tribal Medical Marijuana Cards
Without the State's Approval, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe Opens First Cannabis Dispensary in South Dakota
Interior Dept. Land Transfer Makes Small Dent in Massive Waitlist of Native Hawaiians Waiting to Get Land Back
Lithium Mining Proposal in Northern Nevada Threatens Paiute and Shoshone Land
Native Perspective. Native Voices. Native News.
We launched Native News Online because the mainstream media often overlooks news that is important is Native people. We believe that everyone in Indian Country deserves equal access to news and commentary pertaining to them, their relatives and their communities. That's why the story you’ve just finished was free — and we want to keep it that way, for all readers. We hope you'll consider making a donation to support our efforts so that we can continue publishing more stories that make a difference to Native people, whether they live on or off the reservation. Your donation will help us keep producing quality journalism and elevating Indigenous voices. Any contribution of any amount — big or small — gives us a better, stronger future and allows us to remain a force for change. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.