Water that flows through the Central Valley to irrigate farms is an enormous part of the California economy. Traveling from the northern reaches of the state southward, the Central Valley Project yields 7 million acre feet of water a year. But, if this water diversion were at odds with the existence of California tribes and Salmon Fisheries, and the health of the salmon species overall, which would and should take priority?
Last week, a Fresno-based US district court judge halted the release of water intended to help prevent a repeat of a 2002 fish kill that devastated Klamath, Hoopa and other tribes subsistence and significantly impacted Northern California Fisheries. That year, a disease spurred by low, warm water flows killed upwards of 60,000 adult salmon, and severely limited Tribal and commercial fishing harvests.
The Department of Interior recently decided to release 62,000 acre feet of water from the Trinity River reservoirs over the next six weeks to supplement low flows in the Klamath River to avoid a Klamath fish kill. Central Valley water users, including the Westlands Water District, filed suit to stop the release of water, alleging that the increased releases would cut water to west side San Joaquin Valley growers, resulting in "significant and irreparable harm."
According to an article posted last week in the Eureka Times-Standard, Judge Lawrence O'Neill stated the federal environmental assessment issued for the flows “gives little attention to the potential environmental impacts of reduced water supplies to water users in the Sacramento San Joaquin Basin,” but notes a fish kill could have “severe impacts on both commercial and tribal fishing interests.”
O'Neill placed a temporary restraining order that goes through tomorrow, Aug. 21, when a hearing will take place that many hope will resolve the issue.
A press release from the Hoopa Valley Tribe explains that they and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen Association (the largest trade organization of commercial fisherman on the west coast) have intervened to support the government proposal setting the stage for a Klamath River water battle reminiscent of the water battles that lead to the Klamath fish kill of 2002.
“Central Valley water users have made untold billions of dollars at the expense of Trinity River salmon and communities. The greed and aggression represented by this lawsuit and the hypocrisy of the plaintiff’s exploitation of environmental protection laws both stuns and saddens us,” said Vigil Masten of the Hoopa Tribe. “But make no mistake, if the injunction remains, then the Central Valley contractors’ attack on us, on who we are, on what we stand for, could launch a war for the Trinity that could engulf California from the Bay Delta Conservation Planning process to Klamath River Basin water settlement negotiations.”