[env-trinity] Feds give away fish water to same growers suing over Trinity releases

Dan Bacher Danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Thu Aug 22 09:54:58 PDT 2013


Photo of Hoopa Valley Tribe protest against Westlands Water District  
on August 21 by Dan Bacher.

original image ( 5184x3456)

Feds give away fish water to same growers suing over Trinity releases

by Dan Bacher

Over 60 members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe rallied in front of the  
federal courthouse in Fresno on August 21 as U.S. District Judge  
Lawrence J. O'Neill held a hearing regarding the temporary  
restraining order obtained by Westlands Water District and the San  
Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority to block a plan to increase  
flows on the Trinity River.

They and members of the Klamath Justice Coalition held signs  
proclaiming, "Westlands Sucks the Trinity Dry," "Remember the Fish  
Kill 2002," "Save the Trinity," Save the Fish - Release the Dam  
Water," and "Un Dam the Klamath." Wearing bright green shirts  
stating, "Save the Trinity River," the Tribal members traced chalk  
outlines of salmon and people on the pavement showing what would  
happen to fish and people if the flows aren't released.

"When the fish are gone, we will be gone too," explained Dania Rose  
Colegrove, Klamath Justice Coalition organizer and member of the  
Hoopa Valley Tribe.

The Bureau of Reclamation had planned to release the flows starting  
August 13 to prevent a potential fish kill like the one of September  
2002 from taking place on the lower Klamath. However, the court order  
has to date blocked the increased releases.

"The Trinity River is our vessel of life and the salmon are our  
lifeblood," stated Danielle Vigil-Masten, Hoopa Valley Tribe  
Chairperson. "We need water in our rivers, not more proposals like  
the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and a Klamath settlement  
processes that prioritizes Oregon irrigators. It is time to change  
the way California prioritizes water."

Tom Birmingham, Westlands general manager, responded to the protest  
in a prepared statement: "No one wants to see a repeat of the loss of  
chinook salmon in the lower Klamath River that occurred in 2002.  
However, achieving a reasonable balance among competing uses of water  
involves more than simple slogans that can be fit easily on a protest  

The Tribal members, after rallying out in front of the courthouse,  
then drove to the State Capitol in Sacramento for a hearing conducted  
by Assemblyman Wes Chesbro regarding salmon. Vigil-Masten spoke at  
the hearing regarding the crisis on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

As Tribal members protested Westlands' blocking of the badly-need  
flows, alarming evidence emerged regarding a massive giveaway of  
water by federal agencies to the same water contractors suing the  
Department of Interior to stop releases to save imperiled salmon from  
a fish kill.

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) recently  
learned that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and  
Wildlife Service, both under the Department of Interior, inexplicably  
gave away 451,000 acre-feet of water in 2011 to farmers in the San  
Joaquin Valley that could have been stored in Shasta Reservoir to  
provide critical relief for fisheries in 2012 (below normal year) and  
2013 (dry year).

Over half of the available spawning habitat on the Sacramento River  
for endangered winter-run Chinook salmon has been eliminated this  
year because of a lack of available cold water in Shasta Reservoir,  
according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California  
Sportfishing Protection Alliance. Lack of flow this year has also  
caused serious violations of water quality standards in the Delta and  
impacted endangered Delta smelt.

“It is outrageous that the Department of Interior gave away many  
thousands of acre-feet of fishery water to San Joaquin Valley farmers  
that could have mitigated serious impacts to salmon and Delta smelt  
this year,” said Jennings. “But it is abominable and scandalous  
that the recipients of that gift have now turned around and sued  
Interior for proposing to release a small amount of water on the  
Trinity to prevent a repeat of the massive Klamath fish kill of 2002."

"The same South of Delta farmers also received considerable  
additional exported water this year because water quality standards  
in the Delta were ignored and violated," Jennings pointed out. "They  
have no shame."

The Department of the Interior is allocated 800,000 acre-feet of  
water annually to protect fisheries under Section 3406(b)(2) of the  
Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA), the landmark 1992  
legislation that made fish and wildlife a purpose of the project for  
the first time in history. The law also mandated the doubling of all  
naturally spawning Central Valley anadromous fish populations,  
including Chinook salmon, steelhead, green and white sturgeon,  
striped bass and American shad.

During wetter years, like 2006/07, the Department of Interior has  
“banked” unused portions of that water in Shasta Reservoir for use  
in future drier years, reported Jennings. However, in the wet year of  
2011, only 348,800 acre-feet were used to protect fisheries.

"Instead of banking the water for future needs, the Department of  
Interior allowed the remaining 451,200 acre-feet to be used as  
'replacement pumping' to make up for restrictions imposed by the  
State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) in its Bay-Delta  
Water Quality Control Plan (D-1641)," said Jennings. " D-1641  
eliminated the Department of Interior’s right to use fish water to  
make up for water necessary to meet the Water Quality Control Plan’s  
water quality requirements."

In April, May and June 2013, the Bureau and Department of Water  
Resources (Department) violated water quality standards for salinity  
at Emmaton and in June violated salinity standards at Jersey Point.  
These compliance points are located in the western Delta. Southern  
Delta salinity standards were also violated June, July through 15  
August, according to Jennings.

Fearing that they would also violate Delta Outflow standards, as well  
as temperature standards on the Sacramento River, the Bureau and  
Department requested that State Board Executive Director Thomas  
Howard and Delta Watermaster Craig Wilson allow them to operate under  
a “critical year” classification instead of a “dry year”  
classification and move the temperature compliance point on the  
Sacramento River upstream. The National Marine Fisheries Service,  
Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Fish and Wildlife  
endorsed the request.

Despite a dry spring, 2013 is legally defined as a “dry year.” The  
State Board has no legal authority to arbitrary change the water year  
classification. However, on 29 May 2013, the State Board informed  
USBR and DWR that they “will not object or take any action if the  
Bureau and Department operate to meet critically dry year objectives  
for Western and interior Delta.”

Jennings said the result of the State Board’s refusal to enforce  
water quality standards was that the Bureau and Department increased  
reservoir releases, ramped up exports and throttled back Delta  
outflow. The temperature compliance point on the Sacramento River was  
moved from Red Bluff upstream to Anderson, eliminating crucial  
spawning habitat for winter-run Chinook salmon.

Reduced Delta outflow caused the low salinity zone to move upstream  
and Delta smelt were drawn into the Western Delta to perish. But the  
farmers of Westlands and San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority, who  
are now suing the Department of Interior over Trinity releases, got  
more water.

“This year’s failure of resource and regulatory agencies to  
protect fisheries and enforce the law is a poster child for the  
collapse of the Delta’s ecological tapestry,” said Jennings.  
“The resource agencies have bent over backwards to give San Joaquin  
Valley farmers additional water, even at the expense of fisheries,  
and these same farmers quickly sued the agencies when they attempted  
to release a little water to prevent a massive fish kill."

Further information, including Interior’s Water Year 2011 B2 Water  
Final Accounting, correspondence between the agencies and State Board  
and a report on this years demise of Delta smelt can be found at  

As the federal government's inexplicable giveaway of dedicated fish  
water to corporate agribusiness was disclosed, the Brown and Obama  
administrations continue to fast-track the Bay Delta Conservation  
Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels. The purpose of the  
tunnels is to facilitate the export of more water to agribusiness  
interests irrigating toxic, drainage impaired land on the west side  
of the San Joaquin Valley and oil companies seeking to expand fracking.

The construction of the tunnels would hasten the extinction of  
Central Valley Chinook salmon and steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt,  
green sturgeon and other fish species. However, the way the federal  
and state governments are mismanaging the state's water resources  
now, it looks like they are doing everything they can to drive salmon  
and Delta fish populations extinct well before the twin tunnels could  
ever be built!

Note: Stay tuned for a complete update on the protest and hearing.

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