Published February 22, 2017
HOOPA, CALIFORNIA – On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld water releases to the Trinity River to prevent salmon die-off downstream. Since the horrific 2002 salmon kill on the Lower Klamath River, the Bureau of Reclamation has released supplemental water from the Trinity River Reservoir on numerous occasions to prevent similar fish kill. Reversing the Eastern District Court’s judgment, the appeals court ruled that federal and state laws authorized the Bureau of Reclamation release water from its reservoirs to protect migrating fish in the Lower Klamath River, downstream of the Trinity River confluence.
The Bureau’s over diversion of water from the Klamath River in Oregon had killed as many as 70,000 adult salmon in 2002. Six times since then, the Bureau of Reclamation, at the request of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, has released extra water from the Trinity Project to augment flow in the Lower Klamath and avert repetition of the fish epizootic.
“Once again, the Court of Appeals has acted to uphold our property rights in the Klamath Trinity fishery. We are happy to see the Court of Appeals enforce federal reclamation laws and recognize the United States’ trust responsibility to our people,” said Hoopa Chairman Ryan Jackson.
As in the past, Westlands Water District, 400 miles distant from the Trinity River (see attached map), and the largest irrigation district in the United States, sued to block the Bureau of Reclamation’s actions to protect Klamath River Basin fish and wildlife. The Court reversed a lower court’s ruling that limited releases to the Trinity River in favor of increased diversions to the Central Valley. The Court made clear that the Trinity basin has priority in the use of Trinity water stored in Reclamation’s reservoir.
The court also observed that the releases complied with a California Fish and Game Code requirement that dam owner must “allow sufficient water at all times to pass” a dam “to keep in good condition any fish that may be planted or exist below the dam,” independently authorized flow releases
CLICK HERE to see Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision.