Federal Judge Orders Settlement Talks in Spotted Frog Lawsuit
Apr 10, 2016
KTVZIssues opinion denying injunction, also won't dismiss suit
EUGENE, Ore. -U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken has ordered the Center for Biological Diversity, WaterWatch of Oregon, five Central Oregon irrigation districts and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to meet in an attempt to resolve their dispute over the Oregon spotted frog.
The order for a settlement meeting came Thursday, as Judge Aiken issued a formal written opinion based on her earlier decision to deny a preliminary injunction requested by the two conservation groups.
The groups had asked the court to order an immediate change to the operation of Crane Prairie, Wickiup, and Crescent Lake reservoirs, which they said was needed to protect the spotted frog's habitat.
The defendants had claimed such a court order "would severely limit if not eliminate the availability of water stored in the reservoirs for this year's irrigation season."
The judge also denied the Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch’s request after that ruling to stay issuance of a written opinion explaining the basis for denying the preliminary injunction, as well as the two groups’ request for her to set a trial date for as early as November.
However, the defendants said the court did not agree to dismiss the underlying lawsuit, in which the Center for Biological Diversity and WaterWatch claim operation of the reservoirs by the Central Oregon, North Unit and Tumalo irrigation districts and the Bureau of Reclamation is violating the Endangered Species Act, which results in harm to the Oregon spotted frog, listed as a threatened species.
“We are pleased with the judge’s opinion and look forward to continuing our work managing the region’s water in a way that benefits the frog, other fish and wildlife, our water resources, and our local economy,” said Mike Britton, president of the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, which represents eight irrigation districts in the basin.
Britton continued, “The districts are investing millions of dollars on projects resulting in conserved water, increased in-stream flows and enhanced water management, benefitting fish and wildlife species, including the Oregon spotted frog. We all want what is best for the Deschutes Basin, but we have to work together.”
The parties have been directed to schedule settlement proceedings with U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin.
WaterWatch of Oregon Communications Director Jim McCarthy noted the conservation groups had requested court-ordered mediation, which the judge granted. But he called it "puzzling" that she declined to set a trial date before those talks take place.
Beyond that, McCarthy said they would have no comment until they complete their review of the written decision.