August 26, 2013

Federal court lifts restraining order holding back water from California salmon

Water releases to protect migrating Chinook salmon in the Klamath/Trinity rivers in Northern California should move forward under a ruling this week by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill lifted a temporary restraining order that had stalled the releases pending further legal argument.

The releases are designed to prevent a potentially serious fish die off from again impacting salmon populations entering the Klamath River estuary, as it did in 2002. The fish kill that year had severe impacts on tribal fishing rights, the ecology, and commercial fishing interests. Experts in the case decided today agreed that another fish kill would likely have similar impacts.

The court noted that the “stated purpose of the planned releases is to ‘reduce the likelihood, and potentially reduce the severity, of any Ich epizootic event that could lead to associated fish die off in 2013′ in the lower Klamath River.” Ich is a fish parasite that thrives in slow-moving water, especially when that water is crowded with fish, as is expected during this year’s salmon run. Weighing the risks of harm to large agricultural interests against the risks of harm to the environment absent water flow augmentation, Judge O’Neill reasoned that “on balance, considering the significantly lower volume of water now projected to be involved and the potential and enormous risk to the fishery of doing nothing,” the water releases should occur as planned.

Related Environmental Law Resources
Read the federal court decision:
San-Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Auth. v. Jewell, No. 1:13-CV-012320LJO-GSA (order lifting temp. restraining order & denying mot. for prelim. inj.).

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