[env-trinity] Times Standard: County, tribe seek promised dam water for Trinity

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Thu Apr 23 07:59:46 PDT 2015

County, tribe seek promised dam water for Trinity
By Will Houston, Eureka Times-StandardPOSTED: 04/22/15, 10:55 PM PDT |0 COMMENTSWhile the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began releasing Lewiston Dam water into the Trinity River on Wednesday as part of an ongoing restoration project, Humboldt County and the Hoopa Valley Tribe are seeking for the agency to make another release later this year to prevent fish-kill conditions.The option for the county to have the federal agency release the dam water was a contested issue for several years even though a 1955 Congressional act and subsequent contract between the county and the agency in 1959 promised the county 50,000 acre-feet of water annually in addition to fish protecting flows. After the U.S. Interior Department issued an opinion in December formally recognizing this right, 3rd District Humboldt County Supervisor Mark Lovelace said that the county has been working on how to make such a request and ensure that the promised water will actually be available in these times of drought.“We want to begin a dialogue on establishing a clear protocol for how the call for water would be made in the future,” he said. “Possibly also talk about having the bureau save multiple years’ worth of water for the ongoing drought situation. Maybe to have three years’ worth of the county’s water so that if you have a low rainfall year, they can’t say there is no water available.”The county and tribe don’t expect the fighting to be over as Central Valley Project water suppliers have consistently raised legal objections to the releases and the 1955 law’s applicability.While the Hoopa Valley Tribe has requested in the past for the bureau to make preventative dam releases from Lewiston Dam to prevent fish kills caused by low flows and warm waters, the requests often involved lengthy legal battles. Hoopa Valley Tribal Fisheries Department Director Mike Orcutt met with Lovelace and 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg last week on how to avoid legal entanglements as the flows were often delayed, thus increasing the chances of a fish kill. “We need to start talking about that stuff sooner rather than later,” Orcutt said.In anticipation of the legal battle to come, both Lovelace and Sundberg are currently drafting a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation calling for the water release even though the release may not occur until August. “We don’t want to be in a position in that we need the water and then get caught up in six weeks of legal delays,” Lovelace said. “That could be devastating to the fish.”Last summer, the Hoopa Valley Tribe and several other tribal and local entities were able to convince the Bureau of Reclamation to release preventive flows to protect against a fish kill like that of 2002 in which an estimated 34,000 fish — “Other people are concerned this year that we have a fairly abundant Chinook population estimated to return and there is some uncertainty with the hydrology,” Orcutt said. “We might be need to release some flows. We should get ready for planning early. Last year, the Interior ran it right into August.”
Unlike last year, the Bureau of Reclamation does not consider any fish protecting water releases into the Trinity River — the first provision of the 1955 Congressional act — to count toward the promised annual 50,000 acre-feet — the second provision of the act.Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.
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