[env-trinity] Chronicle Editorial: A federal judge opens the spigot

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Tue Aug 27 15:04:35 PDT 2013


A federal judge opens the spigot
August 26, 2013

Until this week, a record salmon run swimming up the Klamath River faced soupy-warm water, high bacteria levels and low flows that add up to deadly conditions. But a federal court bowed to scientific testimony and bitter history in choosing fish over farms and released extra water to smooth the spawning migration.
Beginning Tuesday, flows of cold water will double from the Trinity Reservoir atop the Klamath's biggest tributary, boosting downriver conditions for fish. It's a measure of relief aimed at barring a repeat of a salmon die-off in 2002 that killed 60,000 fish when dam releases clamped down.

The extra Trinity River flows almost didn't happen. Central Valley irrigators, who feed farms hundreds of miles away, went to court to block the releases of the water they wanted diverted their way, regardless of the harm to salmon, native tribes along the Klamath and commercial and sport fishing groups.
The farm interests won a delay in extra flows, meaning less water will course downriver over the next month of planned releases. But U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill didn't want to postpone the extra releases any longer and risk another fish disaster. His ruling Thursday will allow federal dam operators to open floodgates beginning this week.
It's more than a win for a strain of chinook salmon on one of California's prime salmon-producing rivers. Two major tribes - the Yuroks and Hoopas - asked for the extra water to protect a cultural staple. Wildlife and environment groups, who want to limit damaging water diversions, pushed for the releases as did commercial fishing groups who depend on a healthy salmon population.
The ruling also sent a message to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which controls the faucet at the Lewiston Dam. It needs to find a better balancing act that safeguards fish and mollifies farmers. Going to court to argue over a seasonal release of important flows is no way to settle this state's continuing water wars.
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