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Judge approves Trinity River releases

August 22, 2013 Herald and News by DEVAN SCHWARTZ 

Releases of Trinity River water meant to prevent a fish kill on the Klamath River will resume today.

Judge Lawrence O’Neill made the ruling Thursday afternoon in the federal district court in Fresno, Calif., canceling his prior temporary restraining order.

The releases will be about 21,000 acre-feet — only a third of the original amount requested.
O’Neill also ruled that a more rigorous analysis of environmental impacts will be required in future years by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Glen Spain, northwest regional director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said the judge concluded the risk to Central Valley irrigators was very small, but the risk to the river and fisheries was huge.
“The balance of interests weighed in favor of doing everything possible to avoid a fish kill,” Spain said.
Early Aug. 13, water from the Lewiston Dam was released for the Klamath River but, by evening, Judge O’Neill ordered the headgates shut.
By issuing a temporary restraining order, O’Neill ruled that Central Valley project irrigators — who sued to preserve the water for their use — had a likelihood of success in a lawsuit against the federal government.
Westlands Water District and San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority brought the suit against Reclamation, citing impacts in a severe drought period and a streamlined decision process that didn’t consider all the impacts.
More than half of Trinity water is pumped to the Central Valley Project.
The Trinity is the Klamath River’s main tributary, confluencing 40 miles from the Pacific Ocean and providing 40 percent of salmon habitat.
Tribes, conservationists and fishing groups argued that dry conditions and a large predicted salmon run in the Klamath River are similar to 2002 — the worst adult fish kill in U.S. history.
Spain said the judge’s ruling is a split decision because of requirements for more rigorous environmental analyses by the federal government for future Trinity releases.
The smaller Trinity releases reflect recent cooler temperatures along the lower Klamath River and higher than anticipated flows.
Spain said his first reaction to the news was relief. “We do not know that this will be enough, but at least it’s everything we can do at this point in time.”
In his decision, Judge O’Neill wrote that neither side holds veto power and there are impacts on both sides.
Nevertheless, the decision states that “considering the significantly lower volume of water now projected to be involved and the potential and enormous risk to the fishery of doing nothing, the Court finds it in the public interest to permit the augmentation to proceed.”
The majority of chinook have been staying near the mouth of the Klamath River. With rain on the coast and the additional flows, Spain expects the chinook to start coming in fast.
The Central Valley water districts were not available for comment by press time.


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