County formally requests promised Trinity River flows

County formally requests promised Trinity River flows
By Will Houston
Eureka Times-Standard

May 19, 2015

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to send a letter to the federal government making a formal request for its promised 50,000 acre-feet of Trinity River water in advance of another summer of drought and possible litigation.

Passed as part of the board’s consent calender — with 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg absent — the letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell requests that the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation reserve the county’s annual 50,000 acre-feet of Trinity Reservoir water. The letter states that the water will be used to protect human health and safety in the Klamath-Trinity river system as well as to address the needs of fisheries.

“The optimal timing and flow regime of such releases, however, will likely not be determinable until the need is dire,” the letter states.

Hoopa Valley Tribal Fisheries Director Mike Orcutt was one of the tribal members who collaborated with the county in the formation of the letter. By requesting the flows early, it allows more time for the county and Bureau of Reclamation to work out a scheduling process as well as to give leg room for any legal challenges by Central Valley water suppliers.

“A lot of people are expecting that their water supply, including this water out of the Trinity River, will be litigated,” Orcutt said.

This water was promised to the county 60 years ago after Congress passed the 1955 Trinity River Division Act and signed a subsequent contract with the county in 1959. The Trinity River Division Act also established that water from the bureau’s Trinity River Division can only be sent to the Central Valley if there is sufficient water to protect Trinity River fish. Until December, the bureau held the stance that these fish protecting releases counted toward the county’s 50,000 acre-feet. This belief changed when the Interior Department released a legal opinion on Dec. 23 formally recognizing that the two water provisions were separate.

Second District Congressman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, has been urging the Interior Department to recognize this distinction and released a statement on Tuesday lending support for the county’s request.

“The government has tribal trust obligations and obligations to the public to ensure that it uses all available means to protect our treasured salmon runs,” Huffman said. “Honoring this promise will go a long way to meeting those commitments.”

Orcutt said this 50,000 acre-feet is especially important this year after a federal judge ruled in October 2014 that the Bureau of Reclamation will be required to cite better legal authority to release Trinity Reservoir water to protect Klamath River salmon. Orcutt said the tribe is appealing the decision as juvenile fish move between the Klamath River and its tributary the Trinity River.

“One of our concerns is that the fish out of the Trinity have to go down the Klamath,” Orcutt said.

Hoopa Valley Tribal Councilman Ryan Jackson said that the tribe has been meeting with the bureau’s Mid-Pacific Region Director Dave Murillo who “gave us assurances that he will do whatever is necessary to protect the fishery.”

Last summer, Murillo had reversed his decision to deny the Hoopa Valley, Karuk and Yurok tribes’ call for fish kill preventative releases to the Trinity River from Lewiston Dam after meeting with tribes and touring the river.

The Klamath Basin Monitoring Program currently shows that the likelihood of a salmon kill on the middle mainstem Klamath River between the Iron Gate Dam in Siskiyou County and Weitchpec has increased due to a high presence of a deadly parasite, Ceratomyxa shasta. According to fish monitoring data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department’s California-Nevada Fish Health Center, all of the salmon tested in the Shasta to Scott reach of the Klamath River on April 30 were infected with the parasite and all the salmon tested from the Scott to Salmon reach of the river had the parasite as of May 4.

Klamath River tributaries like the Trinity River were showing no signs of fish kill conditions as of Tuesday afternoon, with Orcutt stating that higher flow releases were being to wind down. The lower Klamath River between Weitchpec and the Klamath River estuary are currently showing heightening, but not immediate, fish kill conditions, according to the Klamath Basin Monitoring Program.

The county’s letter also requests that the bureau, county, scientific organizations and tribes form a collaborative working group. The group would be charged with developing a long-term management plan that will ensure the county will have several years of its promised water stored in Trinity Reservoir, even with factors such as the ongoing drought and Central Valley diversions drawing down the supply.