Bush Backs Down on Trinity River Water Raid

The Department of Interior, under pressure from recreational anglers, Indian Tribes and environmental groups, recently withdrew a controversial request to divert cold water from the Trinity River this fall to stop a potential fish kill from taking place on the beleaguered Klamath River. The Bureau of Reclamation on April 22 finalized the Trinity River flow schedule for 2005, following the Trinity Management Council’s rejection of its request for a diversion of Trinity water. The flow is designed to implement the objectives of the historic Trinity River of Decision (ROD) issued by Bruce Babbitt in December 2000.

“We called Interior on this attempt to gut the Trinity River Restoration Program and they backed down,” said Byron Leydecker, chair of Friends of the Trinity River and consultant to California Trout. “This is a very significant victory for Trinity River restoration. If Interior’s request had gone through, it would’ve been the camel’s nose under the tent to destroy the total concept and vision of the Trinity Restoration program.”

“The Hoopa Valley Tribe is glad that DOI didn’t try to re-contour the ROD flows and compromise their integrity, since this is the first year that the Bureau can legally release ROD flows,” explained Mike Orcutt, the tribe’s fishery program director and representative on the TMC.

Reclamation recently determined this to be a “normal” water year in the Trinity Basin, according to a joint press release by the Bureau and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on April 22. Under the 2000 Record of Decision for this water year type, a total volume of 647,000 acre feet will be released from Trinity Reservoir down the Trinity River this season.

The Bureau agreed to adopt a 4 day, 7,000 cubic feet per second flow, as called for by the Trinity Management Council (TMC). This is a minor adjustment of the standard ROD schedule for a normal year calling for a 5 day, 6,000 cfs peak.

“This schedule benefits juvenile salmon and steelhead growth and survival in late spring and early summer,” explained Jeff McCracken, spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation. “The peak flows will flush significant accumulations of fine sediment, move and redeposit gravel and scour riparian vegetation that has growing along the channel’s edge.”

The eight member Trinity Management Council, in response to letters from the Bureau and USF&WS, voted 7 – 1 against a fall 2005 pulse flow. They argued that the decision, already delayed because of the lengthy court battle that resulted in victory for the Hoopa Valley Tribe last July, needed to be implemented without any further delays.

“Diverting ROD flows from their planned purposes in order to provide water for a fall pulse flow will result in not fully meeting ROD objectives,” stated the Council’s resolution. “Therefore, the TMC does not support use of ROD water for fall, 2005, flow releases.”

The Tribe, in a March letter, said the Council had no authority to redirect Trinity ROD flows to be used to prevent another lower Klamath River fish kill. The ROD provides 53 percent of Trinity River water for irrigation and hydroelectric uses and the other 47 percent for Trinity fisheries.

Clifford Lyle Marshall, chairman of the Tribe, said the Council risked dealing a “triple blow” to restoration by postponing the ROD, under funding it and then withholding the water needed to restore the river’s geomorphology.

Unfortunately, the threat of a fish kill on the Klamath remains, due to the Bush administration’s change in water policy in 2002 that favors agribusiness over fish and downstream users. Klamath Basin farmers will receive 70 percent of their normal irrigation water, in spite of this being the third driest year on record. While this is a normal year in the Trinity, most of the Klamath Basin is experiencing another drought year in a series of dry years.

Snow pack in the upper Klamath Basin is estimated at 30 percent of normal, significantly increasing the possibility that low flows and high temperatures could lead to another die-off similar to the one that occurred in 2002, “When combined with one of the lowest projected adult spawning escapements in recent years, impact to fisheries in both the Trinity and Klamath Basins could be severe,” said Kirk Rodgers, regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation in Sacramento, and Steve Thompson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional manager, in a letter to the Trinity River Restoration Program on April 11.

Although the TMC ruled against the fall pulse flow, they recommended, due to conditions that may develop over the next several months or in any given year, that scientists from the Klamath and Trinity coordinate “the establishment, monitoring, and assessment of criteria for determining the onset of die-off conditions in the Klamath River.”

The TMC will convene and recommend emergency actions should those conditions develop. In the meantime, the TMC “believes it prudent for Reclamation to explore the potential for acquiring outside sources’ of water, i.e. supplemental to the ROD volume, in the case the need arises.”

In at letter to Interior before the TMC meeting, Byron Leydecker pointed out the hypocrisy of the Bureau of Reclamation proposing use of the Trinity water to avert another 2002-style fish kill “when the Department of Interior has maintained that factors other than inadequate flows created the disaster.”

Leydecker said the Bureau could purchase water from Central Valley contractors, as it did two years ago.

Another source of water for the Bureau to utilize to prevent a fish kill is the 50,000 acre feet of water contracted to Humboldt County. Jill Geist, Humboldt County Supervisor, said she was “astounded” by the ability of Interior to continue to ignore ignoring use of the county’s contract water and the county’s willingness to have that water available for late summer/early fall release for the Trinity and Klamath fisheries.

Recreational anglers, the Klamath River Indian tribes, commercial fishermen and environmental groups have won a big victory by stopping a potential raid on Trinity water. The Bureau should have considered the precarious situation that Klamath salmon and steelhead would be in this year before allocating near-normal water allocations to Klamath agribusiness.

DAN BACHER can be reached at: danielbacher@hotmail.com
















Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.