[env-trinity] Times-Standard:Order extended to block water releases for Klamath salmon: Fresno hearing set for Aug. 21

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Fri Aug 16 07:26:54 PDT 2013

Order extended to block water releases for Klamath salmon: Fresno hearing set for Aug. 21
Kimberly Wear/The Times-Standard
POSTED:   08/16/2013 02:35:33 AM PDT
UPDATED:   08/16/2013 02:35:34 AM PDT

Click photo to enlarge

A U.S. District Court judge in Fresno has extended a temporary restraining order that blocks water releases from the Trinity River until Aug. 23. The releases are meant to avert a fish kill on the lower Klamath.

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley filed a lawsuit against the federal government last week, arguing the federal Department of the Interior and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation lacked authority to authorize the flows to prevent a repeat of the 2002 fish kill in the Klamath that left tens of thousands of salmon dead before they could spawn.

The Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority also claim the releases -- which were slated to begin Tuesday -- would decrease already low water allocations available to farmers for irrigation.

A hearing is set for Aug. 21. The order, which originally expired today, now runs through Aug. 23, according to court documents.

Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill has ordered the federal agencies to show reasons why the temporary order should not be converted into a preliminary injunction, which could restrict the additional flows until the lawsuit runs its legal course.

”The Court is particularly interested to hear from witnesses who can explain the scientific basis for the flow augmentation. The Court will also welcome oral argument on the legal issues,” O'Neill wrote in the extended order.

Federal agencies and local tribes say the releases are necessary to support the large run of salmon expected to return to the Klamath River this year -- or risk a repeat of 2002. Fishermen are supporting the flows, saying sacrifices were made in past years to pave the way for a healthy run.

Hoopa Valley Tribe officials expressed deep frustration with the judge's decision, and cautioned in a release that a catastrophic fish kill could have political ramifications “that could potentially hurt both the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Klamath River Basin water talks.”

”Central Valley water users have made untold billions of dollars at the expense of Trinity River salmon and communities. The greed and aggression represented by this lawsuit and the hypocrisy of the plaintiff's exploitation of environmental protection laws both stuns and saddens us,” said Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairwoman Danielle Vigil Masten.

”But make no mistake,” she added in the release, “if the injunction remains, then the Central Valley contractors' attack on us, on who we are, on what we stand for, could launch a war for the Trinity that could engulf California from the Bay Delta Conservation Planning process to Klamath River Basin water settlement negotiations.”

The Trinity River is the Klamath's largest tributary, and water is often diverted from the river to farmers and residents of Central and Southern California.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations have filed court documents in support of the releases.

”The fishing community -- commercial, recreational and Tribal -- has sacrificed a great deal to ensure there are ample returning spawning salmon, including total closures of our seasons and loss of our livelihoods in recent years” said Eureka commercial fisherman Dave Bitts, president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, earlier this week.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe release said the tribe hopes the judge will lift the restraining order once he has the opportunity to review the scientific documents and history of the Trinity River diversions.

More information:

Chesbro announces salmon hearing

North Coast Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, chair of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, announced that the committee will hold a special hearing on the state of salmon next week.

The hearing -- to be held from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday -- will provide an overview of the state's salmon fisheries, including reports on funding for habitat restoration and reports on the Klamath, Trinity, Scott and Shasta river systems. Fisheries managers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fisheries agency are also expected to speak.

In a press release, Chesbro said critical issues facing the fish in California warrant a special hearing.

”There's no better indicator species of the health of our coastal environment than salmon,” he said in the release.
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