Federal court dismisses Oregon lawsuit challenging Native American water rights News
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Federal court dismisses Oregon lawsuit challenging Native American water rights

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit on Friday brought by Oregon ranchers which would have prevented the Klamath Tribes from exercising their water rights when they interfere with Oregon ranchers’ irrigation.

The district court originally dismissed the ranchers’ lawsuit for lack of standing under Article III of the US Constitution and ruled that the Klamath Tribes’ water rights, pursuant to a treaty made in 1864, superseded the water rights of the ranchers. In the treaty, the Klamath Tribes ceded the majority of their land to the United States, but reserved the right to the Klamath Reservation, where they possessed the exclusive ability to fish and gather. These rights were taken in 1887, but were restored nearly one hundred years later.

The ranchers alleged the following injuries as a result of the collaboration between the federal government and the Klamath Tribes to make decisions regarding water usage: “(1) reduction of wildlife on their ranches, (2) infestation of undesirable plants, (3) the loss of plant communities, (4) lost revenues, and (5) reduced property values.” The court found that because the Klamath tribes had the right to enforce their water rights superior to those of the ranchers, regardless of any action of the federal government, there was no causation between the federal government and the injuries the ranchers claimed to have suffered. Additionally, the court held, “[E]ven if the federal government were prohibited from enforcing the Tribes’ rights. . .the Tribes would do so themselves, resulting in the same hardships to the ranchers.” The court therefore upheld the dismissal on the lack of constitutional standing.