[env-trinity] Trinity Journal: Court delays river flow augmentation

Thomas Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Aug 14 08:08:08 PDT 2013


Court delays river flow augmentation
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Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 6:15 am
Amy Gittelsohn The Trinity Journal | 0 comments
A U.S. District Court in Fresno has issued a temporary restraining order causing the federal Bureau of Reclamation to reverse its increase in Trinity River flows.Early Tuesday the agency began increasing the release to the river in a plan to protect an expected large run of fall chinook salmon in the lower Klamath River from disease. With the judge’s order in effect through this Friday, the release has been returned to 450 cubic feet per second, Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero said.
The brief delay will afford the court an opportunity to “performed a more measured analysis of the issues,” U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill said in his order issued Tuesday.
The judge’s order was a response to a lawsuit filed by two agencies that supply Central Valley Project water to farmers.
Reclamation had planned to release an additional 62,000 to 101,000 acre-feet of water beyond that normally scheduled to the Trinity River, which feeds into the Klamath.
The plan was meant to prevent conditions like those in 2002, when at least 34,000 fish — many of them bound for the Trinity River — died before spawning in the lower Klamath.
The lawsuit filed by the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Westlands Water District says the higher flows violate Reclamation Law and the National Environmental Policy Act.
“The farms and cities that depend upon water supply from the Central Valley Project are suffering a severe water shortage,” the complaint states.
The releases violate the December 2000 Trinity River Record of Decision, the complaint states.
Under that decision in dry years like this one the release from the Trinity reservoir is to be 453,000 acre-feet of water for the fisheries purposes.
Reclamation also failed to analyze significant effects to the human environment from the higher flows — preparing a statement of no significant impact rather an environmental impact report under NEPA, the water agencies contend.
Their complaint says the unnaturally high, cold flows will adversely affect several species, and the loss of stored water threatens adverse effects on the listed coho salmon in the Trinity River, and Sacramento River winter-run chinook salmon and Central Valley spring-run chinook salmon, by reducing the pool of cold water available to maintain cooler temperatures in the upper Trinity and upper Sacramento rivers.
Under the Endangered Species Act, the federal agency must consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and federal Fish and Wildlife Service, the complaint says.
The water agencies say flow augmentation of 40,000 acre-feet for the same purpose in 2012 harmed the plaintiffs, and Reclamation did not mitigate the losses as promised or develop a strategy for addressing fish needs in the lower Klamath.
The flow augmentation plan has drawn praise from fisheries advocates, and the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations filed court documents in support of the increased flows.
There are some opponents of the plan in Trinity County, although they have not joined in the lawsuit. The Trinity Public Utilities District was among the water and power agencies listed in a letter to Reclamation stating concerns about the flow augmentation.
The Trinity Lake Revitalization Alliance has also voiced opposition to the higher flows in a letter to Reclamation, saying overproduction of hatchery fish is causing unsustainable numbers of adult fish in the lower Klamath in late summer. The alliance also said a complete socio and economic impact analysis on non-fish user groups and users of Trinity reservoir water should be included in all future environmental assessments.
But from the California Water Impact Network, director Tom Stokely called the lawsuit, “déjà vu all over again.”
“Back in 2002, these same water agencies blocked downstream releases of Trinity River water, which could have prevented the deaths of tens of thousands of adult salmon,” Stokely said. “Now they want to do it again. If they are successful, a major fish kill is likely.”
“The bottom line is that the Bureau of Reclamation has promised to deliver much more water than is available in the system,” he added. “These conflicts will only worsen until water contracts and water rights conform with hydrologic reality.”
In his order Judge O’Neill said, “On the one hand, Plaintiffs have established that these releases have the potential to reduce further already low water allocations to their members ... On the other hand, the releases are designed to prevent a potentially serious fish die off impacting salmon populations entering the Klamath River estuary, an event that could have severe impacts on both commercial and tribal fishing interests.”
“However,” he said, “nothing in the record indicates that delaying the additional flows by several days to permit a more measured analysis of the issues would render ineffective the overall flow augmentation efforts.”
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