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Diversion to Klamath possible
Interior officials suggest plan will prevent fish kill
By Alex Breitler,
WEAVERVILLE -- A plan to restore the Trinity River will be undermined if the river's water is used instead to boost flows downstream on the lower Klamath River, conservationists said this week.
The Clinton-era plan calls for added water releases into the Trinity in late spring and early summer, flushing juvenile chinook salmon out to the ocean and mimicking the flows that existed before the Trinity Dam was built.
But Department of Interior officials said this week they'd like to save those spring flows and use them instead in the fall to swell the Klamath below its merger with the Trinity.
That would aid adult chinook salmon as they swim upstream, and might help avert another fish kill like the one that claimed 33,000 fish in the lower Klamath in 2002, the government says. The risk of a repeat is high this year because of drought conditions in the Klamath Basin.
But Trinity River advocates say the strategy ignores years of science supporting higher spring flows.
If the restoration plan is "prostituted" for political purposes, then the government's efforts on the Trinity serve no purpose, wrote Byron Leydecker of the conservation group Friends of the Trinity River.
"Its existence is nothing more than a sham," he wrote this week in a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation. "Ongoing science efforts and 15 years of scientific study would have no meaning."
Kirk Rodgers, regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation in Sacramento, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional manager Steve Thompson sent a letter earlier this week to the Trinity River Restoration Program suggesting some Trinity water be saved for the Klamath this fall.
Many fish killed in 2002 were Trinity River fish attempting to return to the stream in which they were born, Rodgers and Thompson wrote.
"We would like to consider options for reducing the potential for a serious die-off ... by releasing an appropriate volume of water ... at the most effective time," they wrote.
While precipitation in the Trinity Basin is normal, the snowpack in the Klamath area has dwindled to as low as 30 percent of the norm, "significantly" increasing the chance of another fish kill, they wrote. Such a disaster could cause delays in meeting restoration goals on the Trinity.
Leydecker wrote back, saying the Trinity shouldn't serve as a Band-Aid to solve major problems in the Klamath Basin. The region has been under scrutiny since 2001, when many farmers went without water deliveries to preserve fish in Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath River.
Rather, the solution lies in retiring some irrigation land in the upper basin, thereby reducing demand, Leydecker said.
The Trinity flows into the Klamath just 40 miles from the ocean and cannot be expected to fix the entire basin's plight, said conservationist Steve Pedery of the Oregon Natural Resources Council.
"You could pipe the Amazon down the Trinity and it's not going to make a bit of difference for most of the (Klamath) river," he said Wednesday. "All you're doing is moving the problem further upstream."
Bureau spokesman Jeff McCracken said Wednesday that no decision on flows had been made. The multiagency Trinity Management Council was expected to meet today to send a flow recommendation to the bureau, and the Department of Interior will make the ultimate decision.
"We're just looking for the best use of this water," McCracken said. "This is not an attempt to do anything that would overly modify" the restoration plan.
For decades, up to 90 percent of the Trinity's flow had been diverted to farms in the Central Valley. The restoration plan calls for closer to a 50-50 split.
The plan was tied up in court after irrigators sued, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with conservationists and American Indians last July, ending a four-year legal battle.
Reporter Alex Breitler can be reached at 225-8344 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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