Federal salmon trial continues in Fresno

Issue Date: June 18, 2008
Kate Campbell

The outlook for spring and winter run salmon, along with native steelhead, is the focus of a federal trial continuing in Fresno. The trial's outcome could further limit the state's water supply if the court finds current water project operations add to the species' decline.

Proceedings in U.S. District Court before judge Oliver Wanger have been under way for the better part of two weeks, with testimony from fisheries biologists consuming most of that time. The trial continues this week with further expert testimony, including operations of the state and federal water projects.

This phase of the trial, which will span several weeks, is devoted to testimony in a case brought against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Water Resources by the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with California Trout, Baykeeper and its Deltakeeper Chapter, Friends of the River and the Bay Institute.

The court has already found the biological opinion used to guide state and federal water operations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the Sacramento River inadequate. This phase of the case is to determine if additional protections for the fish are needed.

California Farm Bureau Federation is participating in the trial on behalf of the defendants, as are many of the irrigation districts that would be affected by changes in project operations or further curtailment of water delivers—particularly from lakes Shasta and Oroville.

A new biological opinion is being developed now by the National Marine Fisheries Service, but won't be complete until sometime next spring. The court is trying to determine if addition steps should be taken in the meantime to protect the fish.

"Testimony is proceeding regarding the current management of releases from Lake Shasta through the Red Bluff Diversion Dam and the operation of the Tehama Colusa Canal," said CFBF Counsel Kari Fisher of the Natural Resources and Environmental Division.

Red Bluff Diversion Dam and the canal, which is used to deliver water to 17 irrigation districts, contracts with the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation for long-term water supply from Lake Shasta. The water is used to irrigate about 300,000 acres of farmland in Tehama, Glenn, Colusa and Yolo counties.

"Although there have been several days of expert testimony on the outlook for species, it's hard of assess how the judge is evaluating the information," Fisher said. "It is up to Judge Wanger to decide if immediate remedies need to occur."

Specific interim remedies have been submitted by the plaintiffs, put forward by fisheries biologist Tina Swanson, who is a senior scientist for Novato-based Bay Institute.

In 2003, she was appointed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's to the Central Valley Technical Recovery Team, a team of scientists developing recovery criteria and strategies for Endangered Species Act-listed salmonids in the watershed. She also serves on the California Bay-Delta Authority's Adaptive Management Planning Team for delta ecosystem restoration.

Immediate actions Swanson has proposed to the court in her depositions include:

  • Modifying Lake Shasta water releases to establish and maintain a water temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit at Balls Ferry.
  • Modifying Shasta Reservoir releases to conserve water and maximize the amount of stored water carried over to the 2009 water year, which would further reduce water supplies for this year. Water years operate from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
  • Open Red Bluff Diversion Dam gates to allow passage of adult salmon and reduce mortality of juveniles. There currently are fish ladders at this location which experts say may slow migration, but not prevent it.
  • Maintain Clear Creek flows at a minimum of 200 cubic feet per second in June and a minimum of 150 cfs in July and August.

"Until testimony concludes and the judge rules on this issue, we do not know the full extent of impact for our farmers," Fisher said. "There are numerous protections in place for our fisheries and we will have to wait and see if the court finds them adequate in the interim."

(Kate Campbell is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.