[env-trinity] PD Editorial: Keeping the Klamath safe for salmon

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Tue Aug 27 08:06:29 PDT 2013



PD Editorial: Keeping the Klamath safe for salmon
	* Hundreds of dead salmon floating in the Klamath River in the summer of 2002. (JOE CAVARETTA / Associated Press)

A federal agency, under pressure to supply water to irrigators, diverts a North Coast river, creating a killing field for tens of thousands of chinook salmon and other fish.
Sound familiar?
It's the Cliff's Notes version of events 11 years ago on the Klamath River — an unnatural disaster with disastrous consequences for coastal communities and Indian tribes that rely on salmon fisheries for their livelihoods.
This isn't just an exercise in “remember when.” A favorable court ruling should protect this year's salmon run, but its a temporary fix for a problem that needs a long-term solution
In Oregon, a task force representing farmers, Indian tribes, conservation groups and utilities is trying — struggling may be more accurate — to craft a water-sharing plan for the upper Klamath River. In California, a federal agency's attempt to prevent another fish kill on the lower Klamath prompted a lawsuit.
Concerned about low flows and rising water temperatures, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation made plans to release at least 62,000 acre-feet of cold water from Trinity Dam between mid-August and mid-September.
The Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority sued, contending that the water should go to San Joaquin Valley farmers whose irrigation supplies have been reduced due to drought conditions. Instead of releasing water into the Trinity River, the main tributary of the Klamath, they want it diverted to the Sacramento River and delivered to farmers via the Central Valley Project.
Eleven years ago, during another conflict between salmon habitat and irrigation supplies, Vice President Dick Cheney intervened on behalf of farmers in southern Oregon. Flows on the Klamath River dropped, and the water's temperature climbed, enabling a deadly pathogen to spread rapidly, killing about 68,000 fish. Five years passed before Cheney's role was revealed.
This time, the dispute landed in a federal courtroom in Fresno, about 300 miles south of Trinity Dam.
The water districts may have been counting on a friendly decision from a hometown judge. They didn't get it. In a ruling issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill said legal issues remain, but the immediate threat to the salmon outweighed the districts' request for an injunction. Releases can begin from Trinity Dam.
One unresolved legal issue involves the Trinity River Act of 1955, which authorized the dam, and a 1959 contract between Humboldt County and the Bureau of Reclamation. They obligate the bureau to provide 50,000 acre-feet of water annually for downstream users. The county is asserting its right, and the Bureau of Reclamation should acknowledge it and supply the water.
It took years for the Klamath River to recover from the deadly mismanagement of water in 2002. This year, a healthy salmon run is expected — almost triple the 100,000 fish that entered the stream in 2002, continuing a strong recovery since 2008 and 2009 when the salmon fishing season was canceled due to low returns.
By guaranteeing an adequate flow of cold water, the Bureau of Reclamation can ensure that the fish kill of 2002 remains an unpleasant memory.
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