[env-trinity] Times-Standard: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to release dam water for fish in Trinity, Klamath rivers

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sat Aug 23 10:34:36 PDT 2014


U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to release dam water for fish in Trinity, Klamath rivers
Decision comes after weeks of pushback by North Coast tribes, officials
By Will Houston
whouston at times-standard.com @Will_S_Houston on Twitter

Click photo to enlarge
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Regional Director... (Courtesy of the Two Rivers Tribune)
After weeks of pressure from North Coast tribes, river advocates and government officials, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday that it will change course by releasing flows into the Trinity and lower Klamath rivers starting today.
The decision comes less than a month after the bureau announced in late July that it would not make pre-emptive water releases from Trinity Lake to the two drought-stricken rivers as it had done several times in the past to prevent massive fish die-offs.
In a press conference, Bureau Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo said the agency altered its decision after consulting with tribes, federal and state agencies, and after gathering more evidence of ongoing drought effects over the past few weeks.
"This was our basis for our July 31 decision and is the basis for today's decision," he said.
Murillo stated that the evidence gathered indicated that water conditions on the lower Klamath River were worse than the 2002 drought, when tens of thousands of fish died on the river due to disease and parasites caused by the low flow and high temperatures.
The Hoopa, Yurok and Karuk tribes applauded the bureau's decision after weeks of efforts to persuade them to reconsider. On Tuesday, hundreds of tribal members and river activists rallied in front of the bureau's Sacramento headquarters to voice how much the North Coast communities care about the fish and the rivers, which Karuk Tribe Klamath Coordinator Craig Tucker believes made a strong impression.
"Nothing really communicates it like a couple hundred community members showing up at their doorstep," he said. "I think that made the difference in the bureau's decision."
Yurok Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Susan Masten, who was tribal chairwoman during the 2002 fish kill, said she remembered similar efforts that had much different results.
"They didn't listen to us that time," she said. "The conditions are worse this year than they were in 2002. I'm pleased they have responded and looked at the science and saw it was the best science available at this time."
Hoopa Valley Tribal Council Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten said she was also very pleased with the bureau's decision.
"This is about the livelihood of the people, the vessel of life, and protecting our resources to make sure our fish will have water," she said. "I'm excited that the preventative and emergency flows have been honored, and also ecstatic that the Hoopa and Yurok tribes and Humboldt County were able to sign a joint letter to the bureau."
The bureau will begin the releases from Trinity Lake's Lewiston Dam starting at 7 a.m. — going from the current 450 cubic feet of water per second to about 950 cubic feet per second. These releases will increase the flow rate in the lower Klamath River to 2,500 cubic feet per second.
On Monday, Lewiston Dam releases will begin increasing to about 2,450 cubic feet per second, upping the flow rate of the lower Klamath River to about 4,000 cubic feet per second. This release will be maintained for nearly 24 hours and then return back to 950 cubic feet per second, whereafter it will be regulated to keep lower Klamath River flows at 2,500 cubic feet per second until Sept. 14.
Murillo said that the bureau will continue monitoring water flow, temperature, fish health and the presence of blue-green algae — which can create toxic conditions when blooming — and take the appropriate actions if those conditions continue past mid-September.
"Those conditions will determine the duration," he said.
Blue-green algae toxins have been detected on both the Klamath and Trinity rivers. With its July 31 decision being made for the purpose of providing more water to the Sacramento River and its tributary, Clear Creek, to help endangered salmon there weather the drought, bureau Central Valley Operations Manager Ron Milligan said Friday's decision would not change those releases.
"There would be no reduction in the amount of water that would come over the Trinity system to the Sacramento Valley," he said. "It won't change the remainder of our operations. It's going to be felt as a reduced storage in the Trinity Reservoir."
Milligan estimated that there will be about a 25,000 acre-foot reduction in stored water in Trinity Lake for the next year.
When asked whether the bureau was developing a long-term plan to avoid future disasters from occurring, Murillo said it is in the works.
"We were working on it last year, when we had the request for the fall flows," he said. "There was a lawsuit filed last year. That put a hold on that plan. We are going to try and move forward with something soon. ... I don't have a date for you."
Murillo said the bureau will also take into consideration the law passed by Congress in 1955 establishing the Trinity River Division Project, which states that only water other than that needed to protect Trinity River fish can be exported into the Central Valley, and that there was to be 50,000 acre-feet of water released annually for Humboldt County and downstream water users' benefit.
As for the number of fall-run chinook salmon expected in the lower Klamath River this year, Don Reck of the bureau's Northern California Area Office they expect just short of 93,000 fish — but Murillo said high numbers on the Columbia may mean smaller numbers in the Klamath.
Though the releases come later than what North Coast tribes had been pushing for since the beginning of the year, Tucker said the rivers and fish will have a well-needed break from the drought.
"It's a biological system so it's difficult to know exactly what's going to happen, but I don't think it's too late," he said. "Fish are just starting to get into the system. We'll start seeing the benefits on the lower Klamath in about two to three days. We'll start seeing the temperatures drop. We still have to dodge a bullet, but we have a really good chance to dodge that bullet now."
Though he said good science and rationales back this decision, Murillo said other areas could file for an injunction to cut off the extra flows.
"There is always that possibility," he said.
California 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman released a statement Friday saying that he will continue to push the federal agencies to protect the North Coast's water, as well as the people and fish who rely on it.
"There is still a lot of work to do to get the bureau on track to making responsible long-term plans for using one of our critical resources in a way that protects salmon and the people that depend on them while appropriately balancing the need for food production," his statement reads.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.
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