PHOTO Courtesy: Klamath Riverkeeper-Lighthawk
YREKA, CALIFORNIA – Today the Karuk Tribe and Klamath Riverkeeper announced that they have reached a settlement with Montague Water Conservation District (MWCD) that will dismiss litigation the groups filed in August 2012. The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Sacramento, alleged that MWCD’s dams and diversions on the Shasta River lead to the illegal killing of endangered coho salmon populations in the Shasta River. According the complaint, MWCD is violating the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) by killing ESA listed coho salmon without a take permit.
The Agreement focuses on a new management strategy for Dwinnell Reservoir as opposed to cutting flows to irrigators so MWCD should not see a big difference in the volumes of water it diverts.
“We worked hard to find a solution that would start the fisheries restoration process but keep our neighbors in agriculture whole,” said Karuk Chairman Buster Attebery.
Historically, MWCD has diverted approximately 22,000 acre feet of water a year on average. The Agreement allows MWCD to divert 20,500 acre feet of water for irrigation although in dry years they may get less and in wet years they will get more. Water models predict that average diversion over time will be nearly the same as historic average diversions.
The Shasta River is considered by many fisheries biologists to be one of the most important spawning and rearing habitats in the entire Klamath Basin.
“Since Dwinnell Dam was built in 1926, nearly the entire river has been diverted leaving salmon high and dry. This has been a key factor in the decline of ESA listed coho salmon,” explains Karuk DNR Director Leaf Hillman.
The settlement will result in 2,250 to 11,000 acre feet of water being released from Dwinnell Dam for fisheries benefits each year with the exact volume for any given year dependent on how wet the preceding winter was. Currently, fish only receive a few hundred acre feet of water a year in the Shasta River from Dwinnell if any at all.
“This is a big increase in flows for fish and we expect the fisheries benefits will be seen immediately,” said Toz Soto, Karuk Senior Fisheries Biologist.
The flow plan stemming from the agreement is temporary. Under terms of the settlement, MWCD will have to develop a long term flow plan and habitat restoration measures that will be subject to a formal Endangered Species Act permitting process that will include public input. That process will begin late in 2014
“Litigation was a necessary but difficult route,” said Konrad Fisher, Executive Director of Klamath Riverkeeper. “We hope for a more collaborative approach to end the unlawful dewatering of other Klamath River tributaries.”