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Salmon Run Sure to Run

The Chinook salmon run won't dry out this summer, thanks to a court ruling this week. Credit: bpperry/iStock
The Chinook salmon run won't dry out this summer, thanks to a court ruling this week. Credit: bpperry/iStock
August 28, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Salmon are safe for now - because a federal judge ruled this week against two Central Valley Water Districts that wanted to stop reservoir water from being released into local rivers.

The San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Westlands Water District have been suing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation since 2013 - each year asking for a preliminary injunction to prevent the bureau from releasing water from Trinity Reservoir in Northern California.

Jan Hasselman, an attorney from the environmental law firm Earthjustice, said the extra water is crucial to preventing a massive fish kill such as the one in 2002.

"In the last few years, that has meant releasing some additional water from Trinity Reservoir in late summer when the chinook are migrating to prevent the disease outbreaks that occur with low-flow high-temperature conditions," Hasselman said.

The water districts, which serve farming operations in the Central Valley, argue that the bureau decided to release the water from the reservoir without going through the proper channels or doing an Environmental Impact Statement. But the judge said they were not likely to win on the merits of those claims and denied the injunction.

Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, said the drought is forcing the bureau to make hard choices on where to send the water.

"The balance of interests, the judge said, really is in favor of protecting the fisheries," Spain said. "The Westlands Water District is a junior water rights holder - they're last in line. What they're really trying to do is grab water from people who are first in line."

The bureau started releasing the water last week and will continue through mid-September. The water districts now have to decide whether to proceed with their lawsuit.

The decision is online at earthjustice.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA