[env-trinity] Hoopa Valley Tribe: Interior Secretary turns her back on Klamath salmon

Dan Bacher danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Wed Jul 30 18:02:53 PDT 2014


Toxic Algae on the Klamath River. Photo courtesy of the Hoopa Valley  

original image ( 960x720)

Hoopa Valley Tribe: Interior Secretary turns her back on Klamath salmon

by Dan Bacher

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today rejected pleas by Indian  
Tribes, scientists and river communities in the Klamath Basin to  
release water to protect migrating adult salmon from a potential major  
fish kill in the low, warm conditions caused by a historic drought.

Bureau of Reclamation officials said they would release extra water  
into the Trinity and Klamath rivers only once salmon start dying from  
disease, but not before.

"Just a week after California officials reported salmon deaths in the  
Klamath basin, Bureau of Reclamation officials announced that  
Secretary Jewell has decided to roll the dice," the Hoopa Valley Tribe  
said in a statement. "She will continue to divert water to irrigation  
uses and set aside the senior rights to water under federal and state  
law for Trinity and Klamath River salmon."

In a recent fish survey on the Salmon River, a major tributary of the  
Klamath, volunteers counted 55 dead adult spring Chinooks and 300 to  
400 dead juveniles. A total of 690 live adult spring Chinooks were  
counted in 90 miles of river, mostly in cold pools fed by springs or  
at the mouths of colder tributaries.

The fish deaths resulted from high water temperatures and low water  
conditions. Water temperatures on the main stem of the Salmon River  
are now 76 to 78 degrees, according to Sara Borok, California  
Department of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientist.

"So far we are seeing what expect in low flow and high water  
temperature conditions," Borok stated. "The question is whether the  
fish mortality will be a spreading problem."

The Hoopa Valley and Yurok Tribes have fisheries on the Klamath River  
and its largest tributary, the Trinity River. Those rights are  
protected by federal law and held in trust for the tribes by the  
United States. Tribal officials are very concerned about another fish  
kill like the one that occurred in September 2012 of taking place if  
the water is not released.

“The Secretary is betting that if fish start dying she can make an  
emergency release of water to provide relief,” said Mike Orcutt, Hoopa  
Valley Tribe Fisheries Director. “But our scientists say that water  
wouldn’t reach the fish for 4.5 days and once disease appeared in  
2002, up to 70,000 adult salmon were dead within days.”

In prior years, including 2012 and 2013, the Secretary released water  
to create water conditions for safe migration of salmon. In 2013  
Central Valley Project contractors, led by the Westlands Water  
District, filed suit to block flow releases. "The court rejected their  
claims, water flowed, and there was no fish kill," the Tribe said.

However, this year the Secretary abandoned this science-based, field- 
tested flow release fish protection measure that is widely recognized  
as "prudent and necessary," according to the Tribe.

“It is as if the Secretary of Transportation said let’s forget about  
automobile seat belts, airbags and antilock brakes and spend the  
savings on ambulances,” said Hoopa Valley Tribe Chair Danielle Vigil  
Masten. “The problem is that the ambulance may or may not get to a  
crash scene in time, and when it does arrive, the crew will have to  
deal with far more serious injuries.”

Council Member Ryan Jackson stated, “We have made numerous trips to  
Washington, D.C. and Sacramento visiting with Congressmen, Senators,  
Interior Department officials, White House representatives and  
countless staff. We are extremely disappointed in the wide gulf  
between the Administration’s statements professing commitment to  
Indian trust responsibility and respect for Indian Tribes, and the  
federal actions that are taking our trust resources to the brink of  
destruction. That is no way for a trustee to act.”

“The law of the Trinity River has been set aside by the Secretary’s  
decision; in its place she has put the risk of catastrophe entirely on  
us and Trinity Basin communities, in order to cater to politically  
favored interests,” said Masten.

These politically favored interests include the Westlands Water  
District, which represents corporate agribusiness operations  
irrigating toxic, drainage impaired land on the west side of the San  
Joaquin Valley, and Stewart Resnick of Paramount Farms in Kern County,  
the largest grower of orchard fruit in the world.

Matt Maucieri, acting public affairs officer with the U.S. Bureau of  
Reclamation, responded to the Tribe's statement by saying, "This is a  
difficult decision that has been brought on by extremely dry  
conditions in these river basins this year."

"We will work closely with the Yurok, Hoopa Valley and other tribes in  
the basin, as well as with the Fish Health Center that is part of the  
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service," Maucieri said. "While we have made  
the decision to not release preventive flows, we will work with all  
parties to monitor fish health and we are prepared to make emergency  
releases in the event that certain criteria are met."

Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) issued a statement  
criticizing the Bureau's decision to withhold water releases on the  
Trinity River needed to prevent a repeat of the 2002 Klamath fish kill:

“The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s decision today to withhold water  
releases needed to prevent a repeat of the 2002 fish kill in the Lower  
Klamath River is the latest example of how the federal government  
fails to plan for drought to the detriment of tribes, fishermen, and  
the environment.

Even now, Reclamation continues to divert Trinity River water to the  
mismanaged Sacramento River system and has drained Trinity Reservoir  
so there is virtually no available water to protect salmon in the  
Trinity or Klamath rivers. By state law, Trinity River salmon – which  
begin their upstream migration in the Klamath River – must be  
protected before water is used to bail out the Central Valley Project.  
When you find yourself in a hole, you’re supposed to stop digging, but  
Reclamation has dug itself a hole it cannot get out of, and tribes and  
fishermen may once again pay the price.”

Interior Secretary Jewell's decision to not release water for salmon  
occurs as the Brown and Obama administrations continue to fast-track  
the biggest, most expensive and most environmentally destructive  
project in California history, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP)  
to build the peripheral tunnels. The completion of the $67 billion  
tunnel plan will hasten the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook  
salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species, as will  
imperil the salmon and steelhead populations of the Trinity and  
Klamath Rivers. The last day for the public comment period for the  
BCCP and EIR/EIS was yesterday, July 29. 
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