California Farm Water Users Ask Court to Block Water Releases to Protect Salmon

By Carolyn Whetzel

Aug. 27 — Agricultural water districts in California's Central Valley have asked a federal court to halt increased flows in the lower Klamath River to protect the seasonal run of Chinook salmon.

Filed Aug. 25 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, the motion for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order comes in a pending lawsuit the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Westlands Water District filed against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation last year.

Like in their initial complaint, the plaintiffs said in court documents that the bureau lacks authority to increase flows from stored water behind the Trinity River Dam.

More specifically, the two federal water contractors alleged Reclamation's decisions to increase water releases violated the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Last year, the court issued a temporary restraining order blocking the emergency releases but then lifted the order, saying the augmented flows are meant to prevent a potentially serious fish kill like the one that occurred in 2002.

There are “key differences this year that weigh heavily against Reclamation's action,’’ plaintiffs said in the motion.

Projected Run is ‘Below Average.'

The projected run of Chinook salmon returning to the Klamath River “is below average and about a third of what was projected last year,’’ plaintiffs said.

Also, new data show that even without additional releases, water conditions are adequate to prevent the spread of disease and, with the continued drought, the loss of the stored water hampers the Bureau of Reclamation's ability to maintain cool water temperatures for listed salmon and fulfill other Central Valley Project purposes, the plaintiffs said.

Plaintiffs said the emergency releases would cause irreparable harm to agricultural users of Central Valley Project water.

In its Aug. 26 response to the motion for a preliminary injunction, the bureau disputed the plaintiffs' claims and said it has authority to augment flows to prevent a major fish die-off.

“This court should reject Plaintiffs' motion, as it did approximately one year ago, when the Court held’’ the emergency water releases from the Trinity Dam were “in the public interest,’’ federal attorneys representing the Bureau of Reclamation said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at