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Trinity River restoration will flow on


A longstanding legal battle over water in the Trinity River came closer to conclusion last Friday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request by water users in the Central Valley of California to reconsider an earlier decision allocating more water to support fish runs in the Trinity.

The Trinity River flows into the Klamath River near the Pacific Ocean. The water levels in both rivers came under increased scrutiny after a fish kill occurred below their confluence in the fall of 2002.

Water from the upper Trinity River is diverted into the Central Valley for use by irrigators, city water districts and a power company. Indian tribes have for years sought to decrease the amount of water diverted.

"It's a victory for the Tribe," said Billy Colegrove, vice chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. "It's been a long, hard-fought battle and the Tribe is happy with the results."

With the request for a rehearing rejected, the only option left for the water users is to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We are certainly disappointed with the court's decision," said Tupper Hall, spokesman for Westlands Water District, which has more than 600,000 acres of farmland in western Fresno and Kings counties and is one of the districts involved in the case.

In April, the 9th Circuit sided with the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Yurok Tribe, and ordered implementation of a federal plan drawn up 20 years ago to reduce diversions and carry out habitat restoration efforts on the river.

The case has been in federal court since 2000. As the case worked its way through the legal system, U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger issued rulings on how much water should flow down river.

Hall said the district has 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court. He said the district's lawyers are evaluating its options.

A system of reservoirs, pipes, pumps and tunnels pull water from the Trinity River and dump it into the Sacramento River and the Central Valley Project.

If the 9th Circuit ruling stands, a federal plan for higher flows and restoration in the Trinity will be in place by next irrigation season.

"Our work is just beginning," said Mike Orcutt, director of the Hoopa Valley Tribe's fisheries department.

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association in Klamath Falls, said it is unclear whether the 9th Circuit ruling will be good or bad for the Klamath Reclamation Project.

He said the group of officials that oversees management of water in the Trinity will need to ensure that the higher flows are timed properly.

"If it is cold water and it is at the right time, it is a good thing," he said.

He said more water should be added in the spring and fall.






Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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