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Trinity water release planned, BOR hopes to prevent fish kill by supplementing flows
The Bureau of Reclamation confirmed Wednesday it will release water from Trinity River reservoirs to supplement flows in the Klamath River. The proposed releases would be between 62,000 and 109,000 acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to cover an acre of land a foot deep.Reclamation’s plan has sparked support, but also threats of legal action and created a division in California’s congressional delegation. In July, Reclamation proposed to release supplemental flows from the Trinity River, the largest Klamath tributary, at the height of the fish run — generally from Aug. 15 to Sept. 21.
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations argue that dry conditions and a strong predicted chinook run in the Klamath River is similar to the summer of 2002 — the worst adult fish kill in U.S. history.As a result, salmon numbers weren’t met four years later in 2006, leading to fishery closures and losses of more than $200 million to the fish economy between Monterey, Calif., and the Oregon-Washington border, according to Glen Spain, northwest regional director for the associations.
Fishers are being supported by tribes, conservationists and a variety of agencies concerned about another massive fish kill. The Hoopa Valley Tribe has even called for more water and sooner deliveries, dependent on conditions.But the second straight year of such releases draws strong rebuttals from Central Valley Project interests, including irrigation districts and power utilities. They argue that reservoirs have never refilled from last year’s Trinity releases, and further environmental review should be required.
“We are not supportive of the release until they’ve done a full environmental impact statement,” said Elizabeth Hadley, of Redding Electric Utility, which has 43,000 customers in the City of Redding.Comments on the proposed water releases are mixed, and include a change.org petition with 6,000 signatures in favor of the release; opposing letters from California congressmen; and threats of legal actions against Reclamation’s proposed actions.
Supporters make case for Trinity River releasesTom Stokely, a water policy analyst for the California Water Impact Network, said the water releases from the Trinity River are necessary to avoid repeating the 2002 fish kill.
In a drought year with limited water, Stokely said it comes down to taking water from either farmers on the Klamath side or the Central Valley side.“An exceptionally large run of fish is expected to return to the river, about 272,000 fish,” said Stokely, who predicts very little environmental impact or lost hydropower to the Central Valley Project.
Regina Chichizola, communications coordinator for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, said the focus this year has been on water shutoffs in the upper Klamath Basin and, so far, making sure there’s enough water for the fish hasn’t been a priority.Three congressional Democrats from California sent a letter in support of the Trinity releases.
“A massive fish kill would be devastating for the salmon, and for businesses that the recreational and commercial fishery supports,” said Reps. Jared Huffman, Mike Thompson and George Miller in their joint letter. “It would also be disastrous for the tribes who call the region home. Finally, it could severely undermine the prospects of long-term solutions in the Klamath Basin.”Their support is countered by two Democrats and two Republicans from California, who say the case for releasing the water into the Klamath River hasn’t been completely fleshed out.
“We have significant concerns regarding the equity of the public policy decisions being proposed,” wrote Democrats Jim Costa and John Garamendi along with Republicans Doug LaMalfa and Jeff Denham in their own letter.“All Californians have an interest in ensuring healthy fisheries and we are pleased to see that 2013 is projected to produce another bountiful return of Chinook salmon. However, in making policy determinations it is vital that the benefits of an action are weighed against the harms in a broader context so that the best possible outcome for all Californians is produced.”
Opponents say full environmental review a mustDan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, says a more robust federal review is required before the release of Trinity River water.
Nelson’s group, along with Westlands Water District, the largest in the Central Valley, argue that the draft environmental analysis put forth by Reclamation “fails to answer substantial questions about whether the supplemental releases may have significant effects on the human environment.”The groups say the proposed releases cannot be implemented in August and September, and a full environmental impact statement — a much lengthier process — is required.
In their comments, Redding Electric Utility said it doesn’t understand how Reclamation concluded the Trinity releases would have no significant impacts. “Reclamation has reached its conclusion that the proposed project will have no significant impact without adequate supporting documentation, and we question the speculative nature of the assumptions Reclamation has used.”Elizabeth Hadley of Redding Electric Utility said the Central Valley Project could lose between $3.5 million and $6 million in decreased hydropower, without mitigation measures in Reclamation’s plans.
Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations says concerns about the environmental assessment process are without standing.“Those lawsuits will be resolved very quickly,” Spain said. “There’s a high bar to get an injunction in federal court and prove that you are likely to win.”
Tom Stokely, a water policy analyst for the California Water Impact Network, said there’s no legitimacy in the arguments calling for a complete EIS, and therefore stalling the releases.“What federal judge is going deny this flow release and potentially have the blood of tens of thousands of dead salmon on their hands?” Stokely asked.
Nevertheless, Stokely admits the influence of Central Valley irrigation districts. “The clout is incredible. Westlands Water District is the biggest and the baddest on the block. From a political perspective, they have tremendous influence. They have good lawyers but we’ll see what happens in court.”The situation could play out this way: Central Valley Project interests file injunctions against Reclamation’s proposed release of water and then fishers groups along with tribes such as Hoopa Valley or Yurok could intervene in order to maintain the releases while the judge makes a legal determination.
“Hoopa is considering intervening. We don’t believe they have a solid legal argument,” said Chichizola of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. “All the laws put fish and wildlife before the diversions.”Water is scheduled to be released from the Trinity and Lewiston dams starting Aug. 13 and Stokely said he expects a flurry of legal activity over the next week.
The Bureau of Reclamation has confirmed that it plans to release between 62,000 and 109,000 acre-feet of water from the Trinity River to supplement flows in the Klamath River. Parties opposed to the plan have threatened legal action.
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Page Updated: Saturday August 10, 2013 01:30 AM Pacific
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