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Trinity flows get a boost

Combined local, wire reports

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation planned to begin boosting flows in the Trinity River today in hopes of preventing a die-off of salmon that are expected to begin their upriver migration soon.

The agency will use about 36,000 acre-feet of water stored in reservoirs near the headwaters of the Trinity Basin to increase the flow of water from 450 cubic feet of water per second to 1,650 cfs.

The higher flow will last about three weeks, the Bureau said Friday.

The release of extra water is designed to prevent a recurrence of a fish die-off that killed an estimated 34,000 salmon in the late summer of 2002.

Most of the fish killed in 2002 were destined for the Trinity River, but the die-off stirred debate over the management of water throughout the Klamath River system.

The Trinity River flows into the Klamath River about 44 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean. It was in that section of the Klamath River where most of the die-off occurred two years ago.

The timing of the flow was determined by the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, with input from state, county and tribal agencies.

"Based on the conditions found by biologists monitoring the river the last few days, we recommended to Reclamation that we proactively release additional water from the Trinity River to help salmon now beginning to enter the Lower Klamath," said Steve Thompson, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service's California-Nevada Operations Office.

This is the second year for the Bureau to increase Trinity River flows for the fall migration of fish. No significant fish die-off was observed in the Klamath River last year.

Kirk Rodgers, director of the Bureau's Mid-Pacific Region, said most of the water used for this year's higher flow was purchased from willing sellers in the Central Valley Project.

This year's flow increase is being carried out under an environmental assessment the agency quickly prepared.

"Due to the need to react quickly to the changing circumstances on the river, Reclamation was unable to provide a draft EA for public review and comment," the agency announced Friday.

"This action will not only improve conditions for the impending salmon migration, but it also sets an example of how federal, state, local and tribal agencies and private groups can work together toward a common goal," said Ryan Broddrick, director of the California Department of Fish and Game.

Representatives of an Indian tribe and commercial fishermen who both harvest Klamath River salmon welcomed the increase in Trinity River flows, but complained that more water should also be sent down the Klamath River, where one of the nation's most contentious battles over dividing water between fish and farms has gone on for years.

''The government has no problem going out and finding water on the Trinity side, but refuses to put more water on the Klamath side,'' said Troy Fletcher, executive director of the Yurok Tribe, whose reservation lies along the lowest reaches of the Klamath. ''There shouldn't be this disjointed management when you have the same agency responsible for controlling the tap at both ends.''

The tribe goes to trial Sept. 20 in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., in a lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation claiming the 2002 fish kill breached federal tribal trust obligations.

McCracken said the bureau is already buying 75,000 acre feet of water from Klamath Reclamation Project farmers to put down the Upper Klamath River for salmon, and must maintain federally mandated levels in Upper Klamath Lake, the source of the river, for endangered suckers.

The bureau is to increase the extra Klamath River flows to 100,000 acre feet next year under terms of mandated by the Endangered Species Act.

The Bureau of Reclamation's environmental assessment is available for review on the Internet at www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa.

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