Friday, February 24, 2017

Klamath Irrigation v. United States

The United States Court of Federal Claims recently issued its decision in the case of Klamath Irrigation v. United States. The case dealt with a taking of water rights by the federal government.

The case started when a group of landowners, irrigation districts, and private corporations in California and Oregon alleged that the United States Bureau of Reclamation had effected a taking of their water rights in 2001. The plaintiffs were all water users in the Klamath River Basin. The Klamath Project is managed and operated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, and is subject to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. In early 2001, the Bureau determined that the year would be a critically dry year due to drought, and that three species of fish (Lost River sucker, shortnose sucker, and SONCC coho salmon) would likely be affected. As a result, the Bureau terminated delivery of Klamath Project water. The plaintiffs claimed that the Bureau's action of terminating the delivery of water from the Klamath Project constituted a taking of their water without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The primary issue in the case was whether the plaintiffs' taking claims should be analyzed as regulatory takings or as physical takings. The distinction is important because physical takings are per se takings that require the government to compensate the owner without any further inquiry, but regulatory takings are analyzed and compensated differently. The Court looked to prior cases and precedent to answer the question. In the end, the Court determined that the federal government's action in this case should be analyzed as physical takings rather than as regulatory takings.

To read the full court opinion, click here.

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