[env-trinity] Times-Standard Opinion- Huffman: Hoping for rain won't save state's salmon
tstokely at att.net
Thu Aug 14 15:35:32 PDT 2014
Huffman: Hoping for rain won't save state's salmon
POSTED: 08/13/2014 09:01:50 PM PDT
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Congressman Jared Huffman
Science students learn about the Water Cycle, where ocean water evaporates, condenses into clouds, precipitates into rain, and flows down streams and rivers back to the ocean.
Here on the North Coast where the Klamath and Trinity Rivers are so vital to our economy and environment, we're becoming familiar with another kind of "Water Cycle" — one where the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation ignores a problem until it becomes a crisis, ignores the crisis until the verge of disaster, and then improvises.
The cycle began again this summer: Despite critically low water levels in Trinity Lake, Reclamation continued diverting huge amounts of water into the Sacramento River to serve the needs of the Central Valley Project. Just last week in response to inquiries from Humboldt County, the Hoopa and Yurok Tribes and I, Reclamation announced that it will not release stored Trinity River water to protect struggling salmon in the low, hot Klamath River — because there is not enough water left in Trinity Lake. Only in the event of an actual fish kill would Reclamation reconsider — but it would likely be too late to help. Meanwhile, the diversions to the Central Valley continue.
In 2002, Reclamation failed to respond to these same conditions, leading to a record die-off of salmon on the Klamath River, spelling economic disaster for fishermen, tribes, and communities up and down the West Coast. More than 60,000 dead salmon rotted in the Klamath. Last year we barely averted disaster, but this year the conditions are worse. The North Coast's iconic salmon stocks may survive by sheer luck; but if they die like they did in 2002, it will be no accident: we're in this position again because of poor planning and decisions that tend to favor powerful Central Valley irrigators over our region's senior rights and interests.
Since the massive fish kill in 2002, Reclamation has sent Trinity River water downstream to the Lower Klamath in dry years to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy. However, Reclamation also sends Trinity River water to the Sacramento River to help control temperature and mitigate environmental impacts of the huge water diversions for farms and cities in the Central Valley. But this year — as Klamath and Trinity salmon simmer in the hot, crowded river — there will be no water sent from the largest tributary of the Klamath River to keep them alive. Reclamation decided to send that water to the Central Valley and roll the dice on a massive fish kill.
California is in the midst of the largest drought in our state's history. We knew this would be a tough year, and should have prepared accordingly. Reclamation clearly didn't. Even as Humboldt County, the Hoopa and Yurok Tribes and I were demanding more Trinity River flows for salmon, it unwisely diverted so much water from Trinity Lake to the Sacramento River that it irreversibly compromised the cold water reserve in Trinity Lake needed to protect Trinity and Klamath River fisheries. In July alone Reclamation sent 152,000 acre feet of water from Trinity Lake into the Sacramento River basin, and North Coast salmon could pay the price for this error.
Incredibly, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service supported Reclamation's decision, saying the water was needed to protect damaged fisheries in the Sacramento River. This decision is an affront to the tribes, fishermen and conservationists who have worked tirelessly to protect salmon for subsistence, ceremony, business, and the environment. It's also another clear example of how federal decisions tilt toward powerful Central Valley interests, and a sign that Reclamation will continue to flout Humboldt County's 60-year-old statutory and contractual right to 50,000 acre feet of water per year from the Trinity River.
It was poor planning and unsustainable water diversions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that forced federal water managers into scrambling to protect Sacramento River fisheries. Now, Reclamation and its compliant federal agency partners are compounding these errors by ignoring their statutory, contractual, public trust and tribal trust responsibilities in the Klamath River watershed.
There is still time for Reclamation's water managers to do the right thing — to stop the reckless diversions and manage the limited cold water in Trinity Lake to save the Klamath salmon. Hoping for rain while sending our cold water to the Central Valley is a recipe for disaster.
Congressman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, represents California's 2nd District.
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