On August 20th, the US Bureau of Reclamation announced that it would begin releasing stored water from the Trinity River (a major Klamath River tributary) in an attempt to avoid a large-scale fish die-off in the lower Klamath like the one that occurred in 2002. According to the Environmental Impact Statement, Reclamation intends to release the cool water from Trinity and Lewiston Reservoirs into the Trinity River, which feeds the lower Klamath River, in order to augment flows and cool the Klamath. Reclamation issued a Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on August 20, 2015. The documents can be found at here.
The augmentation releases are being made in an effort to help protect returning adult fall run Chinook salmon from Ich, short for Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, which is a fish parasite that attacks fish crowded together during warm water conditions. The releases are scheduled to occur through late September. Reclamation also released augmentation flows in 2003, 2004, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Reclamation decided to initiate the releases because it expects flows in the lower Klamath River to decline to levels seen in 2002, when approximately 33,500 adult salmonids died from Ich. In July, the Ich pathogen was detected in a tributary to the lower Klamath, triggering concern that conditions are aligning for another fish die-off.
In most years, the majority of the water stored behind Lewiston Dam is moved to the Sacramento River Basin via a transbasin diversion. The water is then delivered to federal Central Valley Project water contractors, including San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and the Westlands Water District, who unsuccessfully sought an injunction to prevent a similar release in 2014. In that case, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill in Fresno found that the circumstances justified the planned 2014 augmentation releases as a measure needed to prevent a fish kill that could significantly impact fall-run Chinook in the lower Klamath. In the past, the courts have justified such releases on the basis that Congress specifically prioritized 50,000 of CVP water for releases into the Trinity River basin instead of the transbasin diversion facilities. See Tehama Colusa Canal Authority v. Interior, 819 F.Supp 2d 956 (2011), aff’d 721 F.3d 1086 (9th Cir. 2013). In this year of extreme drought and unmet irrigation needs in California’s Central Valley, it is likely that the CVP contractors will once again seek to enjoin these releases into the Trinity and Klamath Rivers.
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