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Federal Judge Rules Against Attempt To Block Release Of Water To Save Klamath Salmon

Andrew Schaefer
Flickr, Creative Commons

An attempt by irrigators to block the emergency release of water to protect Trinity and Klamath River Salmon was foiled Thursday by a federal judge in Sacramento.

Ruling that irrigators were unlikely to prevail against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill rejected demands for a temporary restraining order blocking the release.

The Westlands Water District and Delta-Mendota Canal Authority, which both serve parts of the San Joaquin Valley, filed suit within hours of an announcement by Reclamation that additional water would be released from Lewiston Dam starting last Friday. Biologists say salmon on the Klamath face a likely epidemic brought on by warmer river temperatures worsened by low water volumes.

Tens of thousands of returning Chinook perished in the river in 2002 due to low flows and warm temperatures. The Yurok and Hoopa Valley people, along with environmental groups and several federal agencies fear a repeat of the fish kill and advocated for additional releases this year.

Westlands and other irrigators argued that Reclamation was acting beyond its authority and that the water rightfully belongs to agriculture. A similar case was filed last year.

Judge O’Neill, in his ruling dismissing the request for a restraining order, said Westlands was unlikely to prevail in the case. O’Neill also said potential financial losses to irrigators and growers don’t outweigh what he called ‘the potentially catastrophic damage’ to this year’s salmon runs.

Though the case may still be litigated, it is unlikely to be considered and resolved before the extra releases end in late September.

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