Judge Rejects Environmentalist Bid to Hurt Irrigators

March 31, 2016
Judge Rejects Environmentalist Bid to Hurt Irrigators

A federal judge has denied a request by environmentalists for an injunction that would have drastically altered water flow from two Central Oregon reservoirs and cost 4,600 farm families their livelihoods.

Common sense has prevailed, at least for now.

The Center for Biological Diversity is suing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the Crane Prairie and Wickiup reservoirs. The reservoirs are an important water source for the 3,650 farmers and ranchers of the Central Oregon Irrigation District and nearly 1,000 more belonging to the North Unit Irrigation District.

The plaintiffs sought an injunction, arguing management of the reservoirs must be drastically altered to protect the threatened Oregon spotted frogs from further population declines.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said the environmental groups failed to show that such a preliminary injunction was justified to protect the frogs.

“It was a very difficult burden for you and I don’t believe you’ve met it,” she said at the end of an oral argument hearing in Eugene March 22.

The lawsuit alleges the reservoirs have altered natural water flows in the Deschutes River to the point of interfering with the frog’s life cycle.

It appears that the frogs have fared well since the dams were built 70 years ago. Defendants say the frogs have adapted to water conditions that now exist and a sudden disruption of the cycle they’ve adapted to would devastate the populations around the reservoirs.

Environmentalists risk harming the spotted frogs they want to protect by demanding major operational changes at the reservoirs, according to the federal government.

And holding water back and reducing stream flows in the summer, as the environmentalists demand, could harm salmon and other endangered species in the river.

That makes us wonder whether the point of the lawsuit is to help the frogs and other endangered species or to get rid of the dams and the farmers.

It seems to us the farmers and ranchers are in greater danger than the frogs. If their water is cut off, they will not fare as well.

Having failed to convince Aiken that the frogs face an imminent threat, we are hopeful plaintiffs will also fail on the merits as the case continues.

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