[env-trinity] Trinity River tensions simmer
jallen at trinitycounty.org
Mon May 1 09:02:58 PDT 2006
Trinity River tensions simmer
Article Launched: 04/29/2006 04:27:20 AM PDT
John Driscoll The Times-Standard
While it may have appeared that the fight over the Trinity River was
over, a series of letters from the main beneficiary of the water in
recent months raises concern that a less visible battle is brewing.
The Westlands Water District has written to federal officials recently
contesting the amount of water that will be sent down the river to
restore it for salmon, and protesting funding for projects meant to
enhance the river for fish.
In an April 19 letter from Westlands' attorneys, the western San Joaquin
water district demands the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation release about 15
percent less water than is scheduled. It claims the bureau improperly
forecast what type of water year this is, saying it's a "wet year," not
an "extremely wet year."
The difference is some 80,000 to 100,000 acre feet -- 26 billion to 33
billion gallons. Westlands writes that the bureau has no authority to
make those releases. The letter ends with a threat.
"We would prefer that this matter be addressed without renewed
litigation," writes Westlands attorney Dan O'Hanlon. "However, we
reserve the right to seek injunctive relief against the proposed
unlawful releases if there is no prompt corrective action."
Another April letter insists that environmental documents for
restoration activities on the Trinity aren't sufficient and questions
the use of funds through the Central Valley Project Improvement Act to
perform the work. Earlier letters also question funding for restoration.
Not surprisingly, that has drawn fire from the Hoopa Valley Tribe, which
beat Westlands in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year. That
effectively put in place a 2000 Interior secretary's decision to keep
half the water in the river and send half to the Sacramento River, where
it's sent on to Central Valley farms.
The tribe wrote back to the Interior Department, calling Westland's
meddling "persistent antagonism."
Tribal Chairman Clifford Lyle Marshal wrote on April 24 that the actions
arise in a year in which the ocean fishery for Klamath and Trinity river
salmon has been nearly eliminated, and during a year in which there is
abundant water available due to a stormy winter.
Marshall wrote that the Trinity River diversion project has done major
damage to the river's fishery, and districts that benefit from it have a
financial obligation to restoration.
Then Marshall strikes back at Westlands, asking that Interior not renew
its water service contracts until Westlands complies with the 9th
Circuit decision and agrees not to interfere with widely supported flow
requirements and fishery restoration goals.
Reclamation spokesman Jeff McCracken said that the difference between
the two forecasts, by the time the decision was made, was negligible.
Between 780,000 and 815,000 acre feet of water is scheduled to be
released this year.
A huge portion of that water will be released when flows from Lewiston
Dam jump in mid-May as high as 8,500 cubic feet per second. That will
taper down again in mid-July.
There's so much snow in the Trinity Alps, about twice the average, that
Reclamation is also letting out more water than it normally would at
this time of year. That will make room for storing the snowmelt, and
also ensure the safety of the dam.
"There's just so much going down there right now," McCracken said.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Arcata Field Supervisor Mike Long agreed,
and said the opportunity to use so much water to shape the river channel
needs to be taken advantage of.
"We're hoping we learn a whole lot this year," Long said. "These
extremely wet years don't come along very often."
Trinity County planner Tom Stokely said the bureau's decision to use the
"extremely wet" forecast was prudent in light of the Klamath and Trinity
rivers' fisheries problems. Restoring the Trinity is vital to boosting
fish stocks, he said. Trinity water could also be used to cool and raise
the lower Klamath River, where in recent years thousands of fish have
died, if hot and slow-water conditions occur again.
"Is Westlands trying to ensure that we have permanent ocean fishing
closures?" Stokely said. "Because the Trinity is half the equation."
The winter also put a huge amount of sediment in the river this year, he
said, and it needs all the water it can get to wash the silt and sand
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