FROM THE ARCHIVE

Plan would help restoresalmon to river

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DECEMBER 20, 2000

On Tuesday, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt announced final plans to return flows to the Trinity River in order to help restore dwindling runs of salmon and fulfill a promise made to two California tribes.

"This decision is 20 years in the making," said Babbitt at the Hoopa Reservation in northern California, about 300 miles north of San Francisco. "It reflects our commitment and obligation to protect both fish and wildlife species, and to fulfill our trust responsibilities to the tribes living in the region who have fished on the Trinity River for thousands of years."

In 1955, Congress authorized the construction of a dam and other water facilities on the river. Since then, an average of 70 percent of the water in the Trinity River has been diverted in order to provide power to consumers in central California.

The result of the water project, says the Interior, has led to a decrease of fish in the basin. Runs of chinook are down 67 percent, coho 93 percent, and steelhead 53 percent. Coho are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, a designation not as strong as endangered.

But for the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Yurok Tribe the reduction of the fish in the waters directly endangers their respective cultures. The Hoopa reservation borders the river and the Yurok reservation borders another river affected by the Trinity.

"The decision by Interior Secretary Babbitt to sign the Record of Decision for returning flows to the Trinity River is of monumental importance to the Hoopa People in the sustenance of our resources and culture," said Hoopa Valley Chairman Duane J. Sherman Sr. A 1992 law mandated study of the river flows with the cooperation of the tribe.

"Yurok traditions and culture depend upon healthy fish populations in the Klamath/Trinity Basins. This is a start," added Yurok Chairwoman Susan Masten.

But Californians further south aren't quite as happy. They say the plan, which decreases the flow to central California to 52 percent, is based on "bad science" and all possible alternatives weren't considered.

"While we recognize the importance of promoting healthy salmon populations in the Trinity River, today's decision was irresponsible," said John Fistolera, a spokesperson for the Northern California Power Agency, a consortium of cities and irrigation districts. He also says the decision couldn't have come at a worse time, given the state's current energy crisis.

"Unfortunately, the flow plan adopted by the DOI will cost California up to 350 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power 350,000 households -- at a time when the state needs it most," said Fistolera.

The Westlands Water District, the largest irrigation district in the country, is suing the Interior over the decision. A hearing has been scheduled for February.

Relevant Links:
The Arcata Fish and Wildlife Office, California - www.ccfwo.r1.fws.gov
The Northern California Power Agency - www.ncpahydro.com