Scientists, federal officials and tribal leaders say the water is needed now. But at 2 pm, yesterday federal judge Lawrence J. O’Neill issued an order to block releases from Trinity River dams until at least Friday, and then today he extended the order until at least August 21st.
"I have received a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued by Judge Lawrence J. O' Neill that has an adverse effect on the scheduled release of Trinity River water to advert a Klamath fish kill. This TRO contradicts almost 60 years of laws pertaining to the diversion of the Trinity River, which put the Hoopa Valley Tribal water rights and the Trinity fishery over the needs of Central Valley irrigators," stated Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten.
The Tribe went on to say they hope once the judge has the opportunity to review the scientific documents and history of the Trinity River diversions he will lift the restraining order. They warn another catastrophic fish die off will have political ramifications that could potentially hurt both the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Klamath River Basin water talks.
At issue is the recent decision from the Department of Interior to release 62,000 acre feet of water from the Trinity River reservoirs over the next six weeks to supplement low flows in the Klamath River to avoid a Klamath fish kill. This action is overwhelming supported by the public, Tribes, fishermen, and the scientific community, who claim similar actions in prior years were effective in avoiding fisheries disasters.
However, Central Valley water users, including the Westlands Water District, filed suit under environmental laws to stop the release of water last week, claiming releases will impact their future water supply.
The TRO was issued despite the federal government’s briefings, which stated, “Granting an injunction would result in immediate and irreparable injury to the public’s interest, including a significant risk of harm to fall-run salmon in the Klamath and Trinity River and, of special concern, the frustration of the government’s trust responsibility to the Hoopa Valley and Yurok Tribes to restore their fisheries.”
The Hoopa Valley Tribe and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen Association intervened to support the government proposal setting the stage for a Klamath River water battle reminiscent of the water battles that lead to the Klamath fish kill of 2002, which killed upwards of 60,000 adult salmon, and severely limited Tribal and commercial fishing harvests.
Along with supporting the government’s temporary actions to avert a fish kill the Hoopa Valley Tribe is asking for long term solutions to the crisis in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers that reflect that most irrigators receiving water from the Klamath Basin are junior water right holders. They say proposals such as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Klamath Basin Restoration Agreements would actually take more water from the Klamath and Trinity Rivers, and elevate junior water right holders over Tribes.
“Central Valley water users have made untold billions of dollars at the expense of Trinity River salmon and communities. The greed and aggression represented by this lawsuit and the hypocrisy of the plaintiff’s exploitation of environmental protection laws both stuns and saddens us,” said Vigil Masten" “But make no mistake,” she said, “If the injunction remains, then the Central Valley contractors’ attack on us, on who we are, on what we stand for, could launch a war for the Trinity that could engulf California from the Bay Delta Conservation Planning process to Klamath River Basin water settlement negotiations.”