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Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Aug 28 09:46:51 PDT 2013


Judge OKs higher river releases
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Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 6:15 am
Amy Gittelsohn The Trinity Journal | 0 comments
Trinity River flows – elevated since Sunday for a tribal ceremony – will continue to be higher than usual for several weeks after a U.S. District Court judge refused to block a high release meant to protect fish in the lower Klamath River.The release from Lewiston Dam to the Trinity River, a tributary to the Klamath, has been ramping down from the high of 2,650 cubic feet per second Sunday for the Hoopa Valley Tribe Boat Dance Ceremony and is expected to reach 850 cfs early Thursday. The release is anticipated to range from 850 to 900 cfs until approximately Sept. 19, depending on conditions in the lower Klamath. The flows will then gradually be reduced back to 450 cfs.
Fisheries advocates praised the judge's decision denying a preliminary injunction to stop the flows.
"This is great news for the Trinity River, its salmon, its people and the rule of law and science," said Tom Stokely, a director for the California Water Impact Network and former Trinity County natural resources planner.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Lawrence O'Neill on Thursday to allow the higher flows came after two days of testimony in a court case filed by the Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, suppliers of water to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. They argued that farmers already in a desperate water situation would be further hurt by additional water releases from the Trinity reservoir and questioned the science behind the federal Bureau of Reclamation plan to release the additional water to reduce chances of a fish kill in the lower Klamath like the one in 2002.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations PCFFA, Institute for Fisheries Resources and Yurok Tribe intervened in the lawsuit on the side of the federal government.
Prior to the two-day hearing, O'Neill seemed to be leaning in favor of the plaintiffs.
"Once the science was in front of him the answer was very clear. There was just no dispute about it," said attorney Jan Hasselman, who represented the PCFFA and Institute for Fisheries Resources.
Even the plaintiffs' fisheries biologist did not disagree with experts supporting the flow when asked, Hasselman said.
In his decision issued Thursday, Judge O'Neill cited testimony of Yurok Tribe fisheries biologist Josh Strange on the ich parasite found to have caused the 2002 fish kill. The parasite matures more rapidly at warmer water temperatures and has trouble successfully attaching to a fish host when water velocities are higher, O'Neill stated.
The judge also noted the federal agencies' projection that considerably less water will be needed than originally proposed.
The federal Bureau of Reclamation originally planned release up to 101,000 acre-feet of water beyond that regularly scheduled in this dry year if needed to avert a fish die-off like the one in 2002 in the lower Klamath. However, given that the higher flow meant to begin two weeks ago was halted with a restraining order and considering hydrologic conditions so far, the current projection is for augmentation of 20,000 acre-feet.
"Considering the significantly lower volume of water now projected to be involved and the potential and enormous risk to the fishery of doing nothing, the Court finds it in the public interest to permit the augmentation to proceed," Judge O'Neill wrote.
Although the judge noted that the federal government's projection for water needed was significantly reduced, he did not cap the amount at 20,000 acre-feet. More could be released if Reclamation determines it is needed.
Much was at stake in this case, Hasselman said.
"There was a lot hanging in the balance for commercial fishermen, for Indian tribes, for people that care about the health of this river system," he said. "We were all very concerned."
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