Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Appeals court won't reconsider Trinity decision
A federal appeals court refused to hear again the Westlands Water District's suit against a restoration plan for the Trinity River.
None of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' active judges voted to hear the case again. The decision is the latest victory for the Hoopa Valley Tribe and fishing and environmental interests that have fought for years to cut diversions from the Trinity to the Sacramento River, where Westlands and other irrigation districts get their water.
Westlands said it hasn't decided whether to seek a U.S. Supreme Court review. Some say the Supreme Court is unlikely to hear the matter given last week's ruling. Westlands, however, said there are unresolved issues that need to be addressed.
The suit by Westlands and the Northern California Power Agency has led to extensive delays in putting in place a congressionally supported plan authorized by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in 2000. It calls for just under half the Trinity's water to remain in the river. The 9th Circuit earlier this year ordered the program to move forward.
"It was clear to us from the beginning that the economic interests that have been draining this river for profit did not care about keeping the river and its fishery alive," said Hoopa Tribal Chairman Lyle Marshall. "They have been stealing our water for decades and we knew they would not let go of it easily."
Up to 90 percent of the Trinity's water above Lewiston Dam has been sent to the Sacramento since the diversion project was built in the 1960s. A collapse of the once spectacular salmon runs in the river can be traced to that time.
Westlands spokesman Tupper Hull said the district is disappointed in the decision, but said developments like the reauthorization of CalFed -- a program to restore the Sacramento Delta and shore up water supplies -- and other collaboration between state and federal water project contractors is promising.
"The outlook for farming on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley is probably better today than in a long time," Hull said.
Marshall said the tribe can now pay more attention to problems on the Klamath River, into which the Trinity flows. In 2002, between 34,000 and 68,000 salmon died in the lower Klamath, claiming most of the Trinity's fall run of chinook salmon.
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Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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