Trinity Reservoir Releases Water

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Releases Shared Water From Trinity Reservoir Despite Making Claims Of “California’s Historic Drought”

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (Authority) along with Westlands Water District, according to their press release, has filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) from releasing Central Valley Project (CVP) water from the Trinity Division to the Klamath River.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said releases started Friday from Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River, the Klamath’s primary tributary, and would continue into late September.SLDMWA logo
Yesterday, Reclamation announced the release of up to 88,000 acre-feet of CVP water from Trinity Reservoir in the hope of aiding returning non-listed Chinook salmon with the optimism of diminishing the effect of a naturally-occurring disease endemic known as “Ich” (pronounced “ick”) to the Klamath River system to which the Trinity River is connected. This action, which is outside of Reclamation’s authorized place of use, is a repeat of a similar action taken last year with the intention to help avoid an outbreak which has only been documented to have occurred once in 2002. Since 2000, a significant supply of water has been set aside each year from the Trinity Reservoir for fishery protection purposes. Specifically, over the past four years, this has equated to more than 200,000 acre-feet of water lost that was literally flushed down the Lower Klamath River.
“As our state is faced with a water supply crisis affecting every sector of people, businesses, and communities, an action like this is unthinkable. This will cause irreparable damage to drought-stricken communities already facing water restrictions,” said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.
The CVP and State Water Project (SWP) provide water for more than 25 million Californians who depend upon a reliable water supply. In the 50-year history of the Projects, water deliveries have never been lower–the CVP is experiencing its second year of a zero water allocation and the SWP sits at a mere 20 percent water allocation.
Reclamation is once again choosing to ignore the harms of its actions through the issuance of a “Finding of No Significant Environmental Impact” (FONSI) that hasn’t been properly analyzed. Further, Reclamation’s decision to release 88,000 acre-feet of CVP water for the Klamath River is a sad irony given that Reclamation is currently unable to meet its legally-mandated obligations within the CVP and SWP.
 Westlands Water District_logo
“The hardworking people of the State of California have been directed by state and federal agencies to conserve water in the form of dying lawns, fewer showers, unplanted fields, trees uprooted or turning brown, and community wells drying up. Yet Reclamation, which has been unable to deliver any water to farmers, has decided to release tens of thousands of acre feet in an arbitrary manner that the courts have previously held to be unlawful.” said Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District. “The fact that 88,000 acre-feet can be casually released without regard to the potential impacts on the environment, including at risk-species in the Sacramento River and the Delta, is a gross mismanagement of the state’s water supplies. The action filed today is intended to compel Reclamation to comply with its mandatory duties,” said Birmingham.
“During a time when we are experiencing the worst water management challenges in decades, when communities and agriculture throughout the state are suffering severe impacts that have negatively affected our economy, the labor force and the environment, the decision by the Bureau of Reclamation to repurpose precious Central Valley Project water resources to augment Klamath flows for non-endangered fish, an action that is of questionable benefit, is both irresponsible and incomprehensible. While the needs of cities, family farms, and endangered species that rely on CVP resources continue to go unmet, the reallocation of the Project’s limited supply of water defies all logic,” said Jeff Sutton, general manager of the Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority, an organization that represents seventeen Sacramento Valley water districts that hold CVP water service contracts, that are also highly critical of the action being undertaken by the Bureau of Reclamation.
The water planned for release is enough to farm 31,000 acres of food, or to serve the domestic needs of more than 175,000 families for an entire year. The devastating effects of the drought will be felt for decades to come especially if arbitrary decisions like these continue.

Reclamation Announces It Will Dump Water While Thousands Stand in Line for Food Handouts

The following is a statement by Dan Nelson, Executive Director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, regarding the release of water from Trinity Reservoir by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for speculative fishery purposes.

Today, United States Bureau of Reclamation announced it will dump precious Central Valley Project water while the people of our valley suffer from well-documented and widely reported social and economic destruction as a result of government policies compounded by the drought.

While over 2,000,000 acres of farmland throughout the Central Valley, which produces over half of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables, continues to have a 0 percent water supply from the Central Valley Project, Reclamation has determined there is somehow enough water available to let it go down the Lower Klamath River in the hope it may help conditions for unthreatened salmon. This decision is wrong – both scientifically and morally.

At issue is fear about a repeat of a fish die-off that occurred in 2002 – the one and only occurrence in recorded history. It is hypothesized that the die-off was caused by a number of co-occurring factors: over-abundance of returning fish, low flows in the river, and the presence of endemic diseases such as Ich.

However, since recordkeeping of flows and the number of returning fish began in 1978, there have been six other occasions when conditions have been similar to or worse than today and no fish die-off has ever occurred.

Since the once in history die-off, Reclamation has provided additional flows upon request on occasions when a repeat was feared. Initially, Reclamation acquired the water from willing sellers but more recently they have simply taken the water from CVP water and power customers.

Again this year, Reclamation received a request to provide additional flows. However, on July 30 they announced they would not do so because the number of returning fish is far below previous levels of concern and, in light of the severe drought conditions, it is vital to preserve as much water as possible for the future. When Reclamation declined the request they stated they would monitor conditions for the outbreak of disease and if emergency criteria were triggered, they would be prepared to respond rapidly.

Today, none of the environmental conditions upon which all previous decisions have been made support Reclamation’s reversal. The number of returning salmon is still well below the established level of concern. In fact, reports from field biologists, fishing guides and fishermen along the Lower Klamath all indicate that the prevalent fish in the river is steelhead, not Chinook salmon.

There are no reports of any disease outbreak, which was the requisite condition for change Reclamation established just weeks ago. The only condition that has changed is the increase in volume in the voices of a few special interests.

Sadly, Reclamation and the Trinity Management Council squandered the 369,000 acre-feet of water they had available from Trinity Reservoir for fishery management this year. For years, they have been encouraged to set water aside for contingency purposes. This year, like all others, they have ignored that advice and have once again created a completely avoidable crisis.

No one wants to see a repeat of the fish die-off that occurred in 2002. And, our current understanding of the environmental conditions and science strongly suggests it will not reoccur. This makes the uncertainty that is the basis of today’s decision so egregious. Public policy decisions should be based upon a real and substantiated balance of the risks and benefits.

This is what we know – the fish claimed to be of concern are not present in significant numbers. There is no evidence that the disease of concern is present. The emergency criteria developed by Reclamation and federal fish agencies have not been triggered. The potentially bad side effects to other fish and wildlife, some of which are threatened, have not been studied. And, any potential benefits of undertaking this action are purely speculative.

In contrast, the damage being brought to the families, farms, rural communities, and vital wetlands of California’s Central Valley by government policies will continue. Reclamation’s response to the request from people losing homes, businesses, and hope, for even a little bit of CVP water to lessen the crisis, has been consistently no – there simply is not any more to provide. Until today.