Hoopa, California, August 14, 2014 – Top Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) officials rushed to Hoopa to reassess conditions on the Trinity River less than 48 hours after U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell met with the Tribe’s Chairperson in Redding on Tuesday.
Humboldt County 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg joined the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council and Chairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten in calling for immediate water releases into the Trinity River to prevent a mass fish die-off.
“It affects the economy throughout the County when the fish are threatened,” Sundberg said. “It’s a diverse County and a diverse Board of Supervisors, but everyone is united on this issue.”
Scientists, hydrologists, and Fisheries experts told the BOR Regional Director David Murillo and Asst. Regional Director Pablo Arroyave that there would be a repeat of the 2002 fish kill unless additional water was released into the Trinity River.
Dr. Joshua Strange said, “In 2002 the flows were at 1950 cubic feet per second (cfs) when the fish kill happened. Right now, the flows are at 1915 cfs and dropping.”
Ken Norton, Director of Hoopa’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that water temperatures in the Trinity have soared past 74 degrees twice in the last week. “It’s approaching lethal temperatures for Salmonids.”
A preventative release from behind Trinity Dam would send cool water from the bottom of the reservoir down the Trinity River, lowering water temperatures so that salmon could survive their migration upriver to spawn.
Tribal Councilmember Ryan Jackson was blunt when referring to the Bureau’s week-old declaration that there would be no preventative water releases.
“It seems that this year you’re not working to prevent a fish kill, but are just waiting for a fish kill to happen before doing anything,” Jackson said.
Tribal Fisheries Senior Hydrologist Robert Franklin said that releases water after a fish kill was already happening would do next to nothing.
“We need to disabuse you of the idea that a fish kill is at all preventable with an emergency response. You can’t prevent a fish kill with an emergency response. It’s too little, too late,” Franklin said.
Representatives of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined BOR on boat trip down the Trinity River to see the conditions first-hand.
Murillo said the BOR’s position might change. “We’ll take into consideration what we see today.”
Water levels in the Trinity are lower than they’ve been in recent memory, with lines of moss visible on the shore showing how quickly levels have dropped in just a few weeks.
Between three and five times as much water is being diverted out of the Trinity River and shipped south than is being allowed to flow normally.
On Thursday, August 14, flows diverted from the Trinity River to the Central Valley were at 2500 cfs, while only 400 cfs was flowing down the river past Lewiston Dam.
Melodie George-Moore, a leader of traditional Hupa ceremonies, said, “Our people aren’t rich. We’re just trying to survive. I think the almond growers in the Central Valley – I read they’re having a bumper crop this year – can afford to let some water slide.”
Murillo said, “We want to make sure that changing our path is defensible in court. We already know that the water users will go to the court if there are any releases.”