[env-trinity] Chronicle: Let's not kill fish to water farms

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Mon Aug 12 11:43:21 PDT 2013


Let's not kill fish to water farms
7:09 AM

A decade ago, thousands of dead salmon lined the banks of the Klamath River, killed because federal dam operators steered needed water to farmers. It's a mistake that shouldn't be repeated.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which controls the flows on the Trinity River, the Klamath's biggest tributary, is determined to learn from the fish die-off in 2002. Beginning next week, the floodgates at the Trinity Reservoir will gradually open, creating higher flows over the next month to accommodate a record salmon run headed upriver.
It's a sensible and justifiable course - more water for more fish - but it's riled Central Valley farmers, whose irrigation districts more than 300 miles south want a court order stopping the water releases which would otherwise be pumped their way.
A judge will hold a hearing next week on the bid for a last-minute court order to stop the water flows and quite possibly doom the salmon run. In this case, fish should win over farms.
There's no question that a drought year is hitting agriculture hard. The protesting irrigation districts in the Fresno area are receiving only 20 percent of normal-year water allotments, meaning acres of unplanted crops. Also, the decision to boost flows came quickly, announced on Wednesday.
But the Trinity water in question totals up to 100,000 acre-feet from a reservoir that currently holds 1.5 million acre-feet, a small amount to release in the name of safeguarding historic fish runs.
Because it's a federal agency running the dam, the dispute has drawn in Northern California's congressional delegation, which is deeply divided. Four House members - John Garamendi and Jim Costa, who are Democrats, and Jeff Denham and Doug LaMalfa, both Republicans - oppose the releases on behalf of their farm-heavy districts. But Jared Huffman, Mike Thompson and George Miller, all Democrats, favor the federal decision. Each group has written to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees the dam-operating agency, to argue their side.
California's water wars are constant and intractable. But in this instance, the right choice is clear: release the water needed for the salmon to survive.
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