[env-trinity] Times-Standard:Humboldt County supervisors to Fresno judge: Release our water: Board warns of repeated fish kill

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sun Aug 18 08:44:57 PDT 2013

Humboldt County supervisors to Fresno judge: Release our water: Board warns of repeated fish kill
Catherine Wong/The Times-Standard
POSTED:   08/18/2013 02:35:27 AM PDT

Click photo to enlarge

The Board of Supervisors has a message for the federal judge who halted flows meant to protect Klamath salmon: Lawsuit or no lawsuit by Central California farmers, there's water in the Trinity River that belongs to Humboldt County and we want it released.

”A lot of us are scared a massive fish kill will happen again,” Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said, referring to the 2002 Klamath River fish kill of tens of thousands of salmon. “There were just dead fish lining the banks. It was really heartbreaking. We're committed to doing everything we can to prevent that.”

Sundberg is the author of a declaration sent to U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill on Thursday that asserts that the federal government is legally obligated to provide no less than 50,000 acre-feet of water to Humboldt County and downstream water users.

The board will vote on ratifying the declaration during Tuesday morning's session, and discuss authorizing Sundberg to “respond as necessary” on the issue on behalf of the county.

The declaration cites the 1955 Trinity River Act and a 1959 contract between the county and the Bureau of Reclamation that resulted from the act.

According to a letter sent by Sundberg and Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairwoman Danielle Vigil Masten to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the act allowed for the diversion of Trinity River water to the Central Valley, but stipulated “that not less than 50,000 acre-feet shall be released annually from the Trinity Reservoir and made available to Humboldt County and downstream water users.”

Sundberg said the contract was negotiated for the releases, but the federal government has never honored it. In his declaration, he states the contract was for permanent service and has priority over the Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the bureau over additional releases.

The plaintiffs claim that planned Trinity River releases meant to stave off a fish kill on the lower Klamath would decrease already low water allocations available to farmers for irrigation. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley also argue that federal agencies lacked the authority to authorize the flows.

O'Neill granted a temporary restraining order that blocked water releases from the Trinity River last week, and has ordered the bureau and U.S. Department of the Interior to demonstrate why he should not restrict additional flows until the lawsuit runs its legal course.

A hearing is set for Aug. 21. The temporary restraining order expires Aug. 23.

Hoopa Valley Tribal Fisheries Director Mike Orcutt said he and Vice Chairman Byron Nelson Jr. spent Friday preparing briefs, technical information and testimonies for the hearing.

”We have documentation of the devastation to the tribe from the 2002 fish kill. The fish were a tragedy, but it also harmed our tribe's membership,” Orcutt said. “We're expecting at least 272,000 Chinook this year.”

Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said the request for the restraining order did not come as a surprise.

”What was surprising was that the judge granted it,” he said. “I believe it showed the judge's lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issue. He basically said, 'Well, what's another week?' In a week, those salmon may already be in the estuary facing lethal conditions.”

In his declaration, Sundberg added that the state issued several water rights permits to divert water to the Central Valley, and that the permits require holders to release sufficient water from the Trinity and Lewiston reservoirs so at least 50,000 acre-feet is available annually “for the beneficial use of Humboldt County and other downstream users.”

He also includes that Humboldt County deems the Hoopa Valley Tribe a “downstream user,” and that state law defines the use of water to maintain a fishery in a wild and scenic river as beneficial.

Lovelace said records show that the board has consistently pushed for the county's water rights to be resolved.  

”When you see Delta-Mendota and Westlands Water District get involved, they claim the government is taking their water,” he said. “But these are shadowy quasi-governmental agencies that are benefiting from the taking and redistributing wealth in the form of water, water that belongs up here and not in the desert.”

Calls to the Westlands Water District administration and public affairs offices, as well as the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority administration office, were not returned by the Times-Standard's deadline.

In other business, the board will vote on a contract renewal with Bowman Systems LLC for Homeless Management Information Systems Software and a Fish and Game Advisory Commission grant allocation as items on the consent calendar.

If you go:

What: Board of Supervisors meeting

When: 9 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Supervisors' chamber, first floor, Humboldt County Courthouse, 825 Fifth St. in Eureka

The full agenda can be viewed online at http://co.humboldt.ca.us/board.

Catherine Wong can be reached at 441-0514 or cwong at times-standard.com. Follow her on Twitter and Tout @cmwong27.

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