A plan has been drafted to increase water flow from the Trinity River dam in order to prevent a repeat of the massive fish kill on the Klamath and Trinity rivers that occurred in 2002.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued a draft environmental assessment and a draft finding of no significant impact suggesting that it allocate 48,000 acre feet of water from the Trinity Reservoir beginning Aug. 15, if needed.

The bureau would also use up to 44,000 additional acre feet of water if signs of an eminent disease outbreak are observed, according to the draft report.

The bureau is seeking public comment on the draft reports, but Regina Chichizola, communications coordinator for the Hoopa Valley Tribe and founder of the Klamath Riverkeeper group, said an agreement with the tribe gives the bureau the ability to release extra water beginning Aug. 15.

”We are really excited the (Bureau of Reclamation) has decided to release water to save the Klamath salmon,” Chichizola said. “If the (Bureau of Reclamation) wants to release water for the salmon they will do it.”

At the same time, Chichizola said the tribe was disappointed that the bureau had not allocated water from reservoirs on the Klamath branch. She said she is afraid that the fish that branch off up the Trinity system will survive, while those that continue up the Klamath will not.

Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero said the draft plan does not allocate any more water from the Klamath system.

The Trinity River is the Klamath's largest tributary, and water is often diverted from the river to farmers and residents of Southern California. In 2002, the diversion -- in conjunction with a large run of fish -- led to a massive fish kill on the Klamath.

Disease was the primary cause of death, with warm temperatures, low water volumes, and high fish density likely contributing to the epidemic, according to the Bureau of Reclamation draft report.

Similar conditions exist this year. A record number of adult salmon -- estimated at more than 380,000 by the Pacific Fishery Management Council -- are anticipated to return to the Klamath this fall. That's three times the average run over the last 30 years.

In addition, a relatively dry winter season could mean low, warm -- and crowded -- rivers for fish.

Tom Stokely, a water policy analyst for the California Water Impact Network, said the Trinity Dam provides a source of cold water.

”It really is a tremendous tool that's available to the bureau, the various fisheries agencies and the tribe,” Stokely said. “This is clearly an effective way of preventing the kind of poor conditions in the habitat that led to the fish kill in 2002.”

Lucero said the Bureau of Reclamation is accepting public comment until July 27.

”We should be able to hit the Aug. 15 date, if necessary,” Lucero said.

He said the decision will be influenced by public comment and considerations of impacts down the line.

”I don't think, in California, there's any water that doesn't have two to three claims on it,” Lucero said. “Every drop of water we have in the system is necessary if we should have continued dry spells.”

Stokely said his group supports the planned release of water.

”In a sense, it relies on the goodwill of the groups that have an interest in Trinity River water,” Stokely said.


Info Box: Trinity River water

The Bureau of Reclamation is asking for public comment on its draft environmental assessment and draft finding of no significant impact reports.

The documents can be viewed online at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_projdetails.cfm?Project_ID=10230 or viewed at the Bureau of Reclamation, Northern California Area Office, 16349 Shasta Dam Blvd., Shasta Lake, Calif.

Comments will be accepted until the close of business July 27, and can be submitted to Don Reck via email at dreck@usbr.gov, mailed to Bureau of Reclamation, Northern California Area Office, 16349 Shasta Dam Blvd., Shasta Lake, CA, 96019, or faxed to 530-276-2005.


Grant Scott-Goforth can be reached at 441-0514 or gscott-goforth@times-standard.com.