Cheney intervened in Klamath water dispute

Vice President Dick Cheney made sure non-Indian farmers and ranchers in northern California and southern Oregon received water, The Washington Post reports.

Cheney personally called Sue Ellen Wooldridge in early 2001 to talk about the water situation in the Klamath Basin, where tribal interests clashed with non-Indians. At the time, Wooldridge was Interior Secretary Gale Norton's legal counselor.

The call mortified Wooldridge, she told The Post, and it was clear that Cheney supported the non-Indians. "The fact that the vice president was interested meant that everyone paid attention," she said.

Cheney requested, and received, weekly briefings on the issue and followed up with calls to Norton. "His hands-on involvement, it's safe to say, elevated the issue," one of his former aides said.

That wasn't the end of Cheney's reach. Through Norton, he requested a National Academy of Sciences review of the water flows in the Klamath. A report concluded that releasing more water to the non-Indians would not hurt the fish that the tribes in the region depended on.

That led Norton to travel to Oregon to release the water. It was followed by the largest fishkill ever in the West, with over 33,000 fish left dead. The Yurok Tribe sued but a federal judge said she couldn't enforce any trust duties against the Interior Department.

Wooldridge was later promoted to Solicitor and eventually went to work at the Department of Justice. She recently married J. Steven Griles, who was sentenced to 10 months in prison for lying about his relationship with Jack Abramoff.

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Leaving No Tracks (The Washington Post 6/27)

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