On Wednesday a federal judge in Fresno issued a temporary injunction halting the planned release of additional water from Trinity Dam to the Trinity and Lower Klamath Rivers. The Bureau of Reclamation had scheduled the pulse flow in order “to prevent a potentially serious fish die off impacting salmon populations entering the Klamath River estuary.”
An injunction can only be issued if the judge believes those seeking the injunction are likely to prevail in the subject litigation. In his order granting a temporary injunction Judge Lawrence O'Neill indicated that:
The Trinity River Record of Decision (“TRROD”), which, among other things, sets forth the volume of water to be released to provide in-stream flows below Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River
in various water year types, clearly indicates that while “the schedule for releasing water on a daily basis ...may be adjusted...the annual flow volumes...may not be changed.”
The Judge has promised to make a final decision on the requested injunction on August 16th after parties and intervenors submit replies to their respective original briefs. It appears likely he will issue a full, ongoing injunction at that time.
Meanwhile, native fishermen tell KlamBlog that, while some some adult salmon have already ascended the Klamath River, most of the expected large run come into the estuary but then – sensing that conditions are bad for making the run - go back to the ocean.
Where River meets Sea
Reclamation could still help the salmon
There is debate among fisheries biologists about whether artificial, short duration pulse flows as proposed by Reclamation are a good idea. Fishermen report that past pulse flows on the Trinity (aka South Fork Klamath) side of the basin – while they entice the fish to run up river – subsequently confused them when Reclamation turned off the spigot at Trinity Dam and the higher flows ended.
Some biologists are concerned that many of the adult salmon attracted upriver by increased flows will turn left at Weitchpec and enter a Klamath River above the Trinity confluence which is running low and is polluted to the extreme. KlamBlog shares the fear that augmented flows in the Trinity could help create a large die-off of adult salmon in the Klamath River above Weitchpec.
The threat of a fish kill above Weitchpec has motivated some activists to call for more water to be released from Iron Gate Dam in order to ameliorate poor flow and water quality conditions in the Klamath River below iron Gate Dam. Others feel that increasing Klamath River flows could be detrimental to salmon because water from the Upper Klamath River Basin is of such poor quality. Increased Klamath flows could be particularly detrimental to salmon if they are not sustained or are "ramped up" too rapidly.
As one fisheries biologist quipped recently, temporarily augmenting river flows to prevent a repeat of the 2002 fish kill in the Lower Klamath River is, in essence, an “uncontrolled experiment”.
Not withstanding the experimental nature of artificially augmenting Klamath and Trinity flows in August, and the questionable legality of augmenting Trinity River flows this year, the Bureau of Reclamation possess the legal right and ability to augment flows on the Klamath River (North Fork Klamath) side of the basin in a sustained manner The State of Oregon recently completed the Klamath Basin Adjudication and granted to the federal government the top priority among consumptive uses of water.1 Under Oregon law, those water rights can be temporarily or permanently shifted from irrigation and used to augment Klamath River flows or to provide water to Klamath Wildlife Refuges.
Furthermore, Reclamation failed to meet minimum Klamath River flows the agency stated in their 2013OperationsPlan they would provide. Reclamation failed to meet minimum Klamath flows during 11 days in April, 29 days in May and 12 days in June. During the same period, the Agency also dewatered Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges in order to provide more water to the irrigation interests it serves.
At the same time Reclamation was shorting the Klamath River and providing San Joaquin farmers who rely on Trinity River water with only 20% of their full, contracted water allocation, the same Agency provided Klamath Project Irrigators with about 80% of their full, contracted water allocation. This is yet one more reason KlamBlog refers to the Klamath Basin's pampered federal irrigators as the Irrigation Elite.