[env-trinity] Times-Standard: Trinity River releases to flow

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Fri Aug 23 09:13:56 PDT 2013


Trinity River releases to flow
Catherine Wong/The Times-Standard
POSTED:   08/23/2013 02:34:49 AM PDT
UPDATED:   08/23/2013 02:34:49 AM PDT

Click photo to enlarge
Trinity River water will be released to protect salmon after a federal judge lifted his order Thursday afternoon, finding the additional flows critical to preventing a repeat of the massive fish kill from 2002.
”Releases are designed to prevent a potentially serious fish die off from impacting salmon populations entering the Klamath River estuary,” Judge Lawrence O'Neill concluded.
”There is no dispute and the record clearly reflects that the 2002 fish kill had severe impacts on commercial fishing interests, tribal fishing rights and the ecology, and that another fish kill would likely have similar impacts.”
John Corbett, senior legal counsel for Yurok Tribal Attorney's Office, said O'Neill cited Yurok Tribe fisheries biologist Josh Strange, who testified that Ichthyophthirius multifiliis -- a fish disease commonly called “ich” -- is more prevalent in warm, still water, and that an expected 272,000 returning Chinook salmon would likely meet lethal conditions if the flows were not released.
”Judge Lawrence O'Neill found that blocking the flows would do greater harm to the tribes and the fisheries, if an injunction was granted, than it would to the water districts,” Corbett said.
However, Yurok Tribe officials also warned that the chance of a fish kill has not been completely eliminated. In a release, officials said that if their monitors -- in collaboration with U.S. Fish and Wildlife fish pathologists -- start to see significant numbers of diseased fish, the tribe will seek to have flows doubled for up to seven days.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation had authorized the flows to begin Aug. 13, after deciding the additional cold water from the Trinity River is needed to protect the fish.
The Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority claimed the releases would decrease already low water allocations available to farmers for irrigation and sued the bureau. San Joaquin Valley farmers also argue that the bureau did not have the authority to authorize the flows.
O'Neill granted a temporary restraining order on the releases last week, and set the hearing for tribal and government officials to show evidence on how the extra water would save fish.
He was considering whether to grant a preliminary injunction, which would have held off the flows until the lawsuit is decided. The order expired today.
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Hoopa Valley Tribe, which joined the case in support of the flows, also presented their arguments.
Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who intervened on behalf of the PCFFA, said in a release that the decision to protect salmon also protects the Northern California coastal communities.
”Salmon runs can provide jobs forever if managed correctly,” Hasselman said. “The science is clear that additional releases are needed to protect this priceless resource.”
Hoopa Valley Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten called the Trinity River the tribe's “vessel of life” and the salmon are their “lifeblood.”
”We applaud the decision to release this water to avert a fish disaster, however, this lawsuit demonstrates the need for long term solutions to the fisheries crisis in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers,” she said in a release.
San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority Executive Director Dan Nelson said in a release that a long-term solution is needed.
”Yesterday, the United States reduced their stated need of up to 109,000 acre-feet of water, which they claimed just last week was the amount necessary, to now only 20,000 acre-feet. Clearly the scientific justification they provided last week just couldn't hold up,” Nelson said. “While no one knows whether or not this action will alter what would have happened in its absence, it is clear that in order to move beyond this current conflict we must all work together to develop a lawful long-term approach to managing these requests that is balanced and scientifically supportable.”
Hoopa Valley Tribal Vice Chairman Ryan Jackson said the judge's decision was a victory for both tribes and fisheries.
”Without the salmon, we wouldn't be who we are today,” Jackson said. “We are river people. We will fight to defend the fish and the waters that run through it.”
Calls to Westlands Water District and its attorney were not returned by the Times-Standard deadline.
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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