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Feds give away fish water to same growers suing over Trinity releases
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Aug 21st, 2013 9:57 PM
“This year’s failure of resource and regulatory agencies to protect fisheries and enforce the law is a poster child for the collapse of the Delta’s ecological tapestry,” said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). “The resource agencies have bent over backwards to give San Joaquin Valley farmers additional water, even at the expense of fisheries, and these same farmers quickly sued the agencies when they attempted to release a little water to prevent a massive fish kill."

Photo of Hoopa Valley Tribe protest against Westlands Water District on August 21 by Dan Bacher.

Feds give away fish water to same growers suing over Trinity releases

by Dan Bacher

Over 60 members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe rallied in front of the federal courthouse in Fresno on August 21 as U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill held a hearing regarding the temporary restraining order obtained by Westlands Water District and the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority to block a plan to increase flows on the Trinity River.

They and members of the Klamath Justice Coalition held signs proclaiming, "Westlands Sucks the Trinity Dry," "Remember the Fish Kill 2002," "Save the Trinity," Save the Fish - Release the Dam Water," and "Un Dam the Klamath." Wearing bright green shirts stating, "Save the Trinity River," the Tribal members traced chalk outlines of salmon and people on the pavement showing what would happen to fish and people if the flows aren't released.

"When the fish are gone, we will be gone too," explained Dania Rose Colegrove, Klamath Justice Coalition organizer and member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.

The Bureau of Reclamation had planned to release the flows starting August 13 to prevent a potential fish kill like the one of September 2002 from taking place on the lower Klamath. However, the court order has to date blocked the increased releases.

"The Trinity River is our vessel of life and the salmon are our lifeblood," stated Danielle Vigil-Masten, Hoopa Valley Tribe Chairperson. "We need water in our rivers, not more proposals like the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and a Klamath settlement processes that prioritizes Oregon irrigators. It is time to change the way California prioritizes water."

Tom Birmingham, Westlands general manager, responded to the protest in a prepared statement: "No one wants to see a repeat of the loss of chinook salmon in the lower Klamath River that occurred in 2002. However, achieving a reasonable balance among competing uses of water involves more than simple slogans that can be fit easily on a protest banner."

The Tribal members, after rallying out in front of the courthouse, then drove to the State Capitol in Sacramento for a hearing conducted by Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro regarding salmon. Vigil-Masten spoke at the hearing regarding the crisis on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

As Tribal members protested Westlands' blocking of the badly-need flows, alarming evidence emerged regarding a massive giveaway of water by federal agencies to the same water contractors suing the Department of Interior to stop releases to save imperiled salmon from a fish kill.

The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) recently learned that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, both under the Department of Interior, inexplicably gave away 451,000 acre-feet of water in 2011 to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley that could have been stored in Shasta Reservoir to provide critical relief for fisheries in 2012 (below normal year) and 2013 (dry year).

Over half of the available spawning habitat on the Sacramento River for endangered winter-run Chinook salmon has been eliminated this year because of a lack of available cold water in Shasta Reservoir, according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. Lack of flow this year has also caused serious violations of water quality standards in the Delta and impacted endangered Delta smelt.

“It is outrageous that the Department of Interior gave away many thousands of acre-feet of fishery water to San Joaquin Valley farmers that could have mitigated serious impacts to salmon and Delta smelt this year,” said Jennings. “But it is abominable and scandalous that the recipients of that gift have now turned around and sued Interior for proposing to release a small amount of water on the Trinity to prevent a repeat of the massive Klamath fish kill of 2002."

"The same South of Delta farmers also received considerable additional exported water this year because water quality standards in the Delta were ignored and violated," Jennings pointed out. "They have no shame."

The Department of the Interior is allocated 800,000 acre-feet of water annually to protect fisheries under Section 3406(b)(2) of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA), the landmark 1992 legislation that made fish and wildlife a purpose of the project for the first time in history. The law also mandated the doubling of all naturally spawning Central Valley anadromous fish populations, including Chinook salmon, steelhead, green and white sturgeon, striped bass and American shad.

During wetter years, like 2006/07, the Department of Interior has “banked” unused portions of that water in Shasta Reservoir for use in future drier years, reported Jennings. However, in the wet year of 2011, only 348,800 acre-feet were used to protect fisheries.

"Instead of banking the water for future needs, the Department of Interior allowed the remaining 451,200 acre-feet to be used as 'replacement pumping' to make up for restrictions imposed by the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) in its Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan (D-1641)," said Jennings. " D-1641 eliminated the Department of Interior’s right to use fish water to make up for water necessary to meet the Water Quality Control Plan’s water quality requirements."

In April, May and June 2013, the Bureau and Department of Water Resources (Department) violated water quality standards for salinity at Emmaton and in June violated salinity standards at Jersey Point. These compliance points are located in the western Delta. Southern Delta salinity standards were also violated June, July through 15 August, according to Jennings.

Fearing that they would also violate Delta Outflow standards, as well as temperature standards on the Sacramento River, the Bureau and Department requested that State Board Executive Director Thomas Howard and Delta Watermaster Craig Wilson allow them to operate under a “critical year” classification instead of a “dry year” classification and move the temperature compliance point on the Sacramento River upstream. The National Marine Fisheries Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Fish and Wildlife endorsed the request.

Despite a dry spring, 2013 is legally defined as a “dry year.” The State Board has no legal authority to arbitrary change the water year classification. However, on 29 May 2013, the State Board informed USBR and DWR that they “will not object or take any action if the Bureau and Department operate to meet critically dry year objectives for Western and interior Delta.”

Jennings said the result of the State Board’s refusal to enforce water quality standards was that the Bureau and Department increased reservoir releases, ramped up exports and throttled back Delta outflow. The temperature compliance point on the Sacramento River was moved from Red Bluff upstream to Anderson, eliminating crucial spawning habitat for winter-run Chinook salmon.

Reduced Delta outflow caused the low salinity zone to move upstream and Delta smelt were drawn into the Western Delta to perish. But the farmers of Westlands and San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority, who are now suing the Department of Interior over Trinity releases, got more water.

“This year’s failure of resource and regulatory agencies to protect fisheries and enforce the law is a poster child for the collapse of the Delta’s ecological tapestry,” said Jennings. “The resource agencies have bent over backwards to give San Joaquin Valley farmers additional water, even at the expense of fisheries, and these same farmers quickly sued the agencies when they attempted to release a little water to prevent a massive fish kill."

Further information, including Interior’s Water Year 2011 B2 Water Final Accounting, correspondence between the agencies and State Board and a report on this years demise of Delta smelt can be found at http://www.calsport.org.

As the federal government's inexplicable giveaway of dedicated fish water to corporate agribusiness was disclosed, the Brown and Obama administrations continue to fast-track the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels. The purpose of the tunnels is to facilitate the export of more water to agribusiness interests irrigating toxic, drainage impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and oil companies seeking to expand fracking.

The construction of the tunnels would hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon and steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. However, the way the federal and state governments are mismanaging the state's water resources now, it looks like they are doing everything they can to drive salmon and Delta fish populations extinct well before the twin tunnels could ever be built!

Note: Stay tuned for a complete update on the protest and hearing.