News Column

California Tribes Protest to Protect Salmon

August 22, 2013
salmon chinook
Chinook salmon (photo: Zureks, Creative Commons)

A Members of two Northern California tribes Tuesday demonstrated at Westlands Water District, asking district officials to drop their lawsuit against water releases that would protect a large run of salmon.

The Hoopa and Yurok members are in Fresno this week for U.S. District Court hearings in the case, which begin Wednesday. They arrived Tuesday to protest and attend Westlands' board meeting.

But Westlands leaders said the lawsuit would continue, adding that the water should be made available to contractors, as federal rules have established.

A federal judge last week temporarily delayed the planned release of up to 62,000 to 100,000 acre-feet of water until legal arguments could be heard this week.

The releases were supposed to start Aug. 13. They would be aimed at avoiding a big die-off of salmon in the Klamath River downstream from Trinity Lake. Tens of thousands of salmon died under similar drought conditions in 2002.

Westlands and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, representing many west San Joaquin Valley districts, sued on Aug. 7, saying the federal government was not following its own rules for using the water.

"No one wants to see a repeat of the loss of chinook salmon in the lower Klamath River that occurred in 2002," said Westlands general manager Tom Birmingham in a prepared statement. "However, achieving a reasonable balance among competing uses of water involves more than simple slogans that can be fit easily on a protest banner."

But the tribes and the fishing industry in Northern California would suffer if the releases are delayed too long, said tribal member Dania Colegrove, who belongs to several protesting groups, including the Klamath Justice Coalition.

"We eat right out of the river," she said Tuesday at Westlands' Fresno headquarters. "The river has salmon, sturgeon and eel. The fish need the water."

Westlands leaders say the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation cannot make the water releases for fish while it still has legal obligations to contractors.

The bureau earlier this year announced cutbacks in deliveries to many customers because of the dry winter and curtailment of water pumping at the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to protect dwindling fish species.

West Valley farmers were left with 20% of the water they would like to buy from the federal Central Valley Project. Many thousands of acres have been fallowed, and many farmworker communities are suffering as a result, Westlands leaders say.

But protesters say the water is desperately needed in the Klamath River. The Hoopa Valley Tribe and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations intervened in the case on the side of the Bureau of Reclamation.

"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 Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten in a statement.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6316, or @markgrossi at Twitter.


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Source: Copyright Fresno Bee, The (CA) 2013

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