August 22, 2013

New lawsuit challenging water releases for salmon

By Damien M. Schiff Senior Attorney

Earlier this month, the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, along with Westlands Water District, filed suit to challenge the Bureau of Reclamation’s proposal to release 109,000 acre-feet of water from Trinity Reservoir along the Trinity River in Northern California.  The Bureau intends to release the water to ensure that salmon populations in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers and tributaries do not experience a massive die-off akin to what occurred in 2002.  The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Fresno, contends that the Bureau has already met the legal maximum for water releases for fishery purposes for 2013, and that any additional releases would come out of water that should be sent south to beleaguered towns and farms in the California’s San Joaquin Valley.  The lawsuit also argues that there is no scientifically sound basis for the Bureau to release the water.  The plaintiffs are particularly concerned about the planned release in light of preliminary announcements from the Bureau that the water allocation for San Joaquin Valley farms for 2014 may be 0% of their contracted amount.

Last week, Judge O’Neill granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, determining that the plaintiffs had raised serious questions as to whether the Bureau has the authority to release more water for salmon populations in the Klamath this year, and that the balance of the equities supports preventing the release of the water, at least for the time being.  The court has scheduled several days of hearings this week to give both sides a better opportunity to make their cases.

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