For many American Indian nations, water rights are very important and early in December a 36-year water rights dispute in Southern Oregon became the latest milestone victory for Indian country.
An Administrative Law Judge in the State of Oregon’s Klamath Basin Adjudication sided in the favor of the Klamath Tribes and its claims to water bodies that flow through its homeland area.
Walter Echo-Hawk Jr. of the Oklahoma law firm Crowe & Dunlevy represented the tribe and served as the trial litigator on the tribes’ litigation team.
This is a crucial step for the tribe in its 36-year fight as Judge Joe Allen confirmed the tribes’ claims for six large water bodies located in the former Klamath reservation area.
Allen’s rulings accomplish what the Klamath Treaty of 1864 entailed and awarded the tribe sufficient instream flows and water levels necessary for a productive habitat for animals, plants, and fish so the tribe can fulfill its treaty rights of hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering.
Falling under the water rights of the tribe through this ruling are the Williamson, Sycan, Sprague and Wood Rivers, along with their tributaries, the Klamath Marsh and more than 200 springs throughout the former reservation. As for claims to water from Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River a decision is expected in April.
"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.”