Two California water agencies want the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to comply with provisions of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and stop releasing water from Trinity Reservoir in northern California until consultations with other regulatory agencies can be made.
Westlands Water District and San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority are challenging three years’ worth of increased flows to the Trinity River that the USBR made in alleged violation of the ESA.
The water districts filed a “notice of violation” with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on June 10, alleging the USBR violated federal law by unilaterally releasing 120,000 acre feet of water from Trinity Lake in northern California over a three-year period.
The letter states that the releases were made without consultation with other federal agencies, which is stipulated in the ESA.
According to Westlands Water District, the net effect of the USBR’s decision to unilaterally release water from Trinity Reservoir in northern California has been reduced water allocations to farmers and possible lethal impacts to migrating salmon.
Trinity Reservoir is located between Redding and Eureka and at capacity holds over 2.4 million acre feet of water. As of early June, the lake’s level was under one million acre feet of storage.
Some of the water from Trinity is piped east and ends up in the Sacramento River. The lake also provides water to the Klamath River via the Trinity River. The Klamath River starts at Klamath Lake in Oregon and empties into the Pacific Ocean along California’s North Coast.
Based on the complaint filed with Jewell, the Bureau is required to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) prior to making releases that could impact protected species. The USBR did not do this, according to the complaint.
Moreover, the complaint claims the Bureau failed in its charge to strike a balance between water stored at Trinity and at Shasta Lake to achieve water temperature requirements for salmon runs in the Sacramento River.
By primarily using Trinity Reservoir to achieve these temperature-controlled flows, the USBR drew down Trinity Reservoir over three successive seasons where the lake was unable to fill because of drought, the complaint continues. It also negatively affected irrigation allocations to CVP water contractors, a group to which Delta-Mendota and Westlands belongs.
Now the balancing act shifts to Shasta Lake and the 2.3 million acre feet currently held behind the dam. Though Shasta is arguably in a better position than Trinity Reservoir because of its larger storage, the State Water Resources Control Board has stepped in and has limited exports from Shasta for later in the season when salmon runs will need the cooler water.
Some of those exports could have gone for agricultural uses, the complaint states.
On May 29, State Water Board Executive Director Thomas Howard limited releases from Shasta on an interim basis and could limit them further as the season continues until they are needed for the salmon migration.
This decision continues to ripple throughout the CVP as curtailment orders by the state board now extend beyond post-1914 (junior) water rights holders to pre-1914 (senior) water rights holders. More water curtailment orders could be issued in the coming weeks.
According to Westlands spokesperson Gayle Holman, USBR has been asked to make additional releases from Trinity Reservoir in 2015, a move Westlands continues to warn could have more adverse consequences for endangered fish in the Sacramento River and even worse water conditions for those who rely on CVP water deliveries.
Westlands accuses Reclamation of failing to maintain cool water temperatures in the Sacramento River at the detriment of winter-run Chinook salmon.
Excessive water temperatures in 2014 are blamed for increased fish mortality, though Holman points out that there are other potential causes of reduced salmon populations, including the dumping of treated waste water by cities in the Delta and the proliferation of predatory fish that feed on small salmon and other small fish in the Delta region.