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.