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Trinity ruling a hit downriver

July 15, 2004


A federal appeals court ruling Tuesday approving a plan to send more water down the Trinity River is being welcomed as a victory for fish by tribes on the lower leg of the Klamath River.

But what the decision means for the Upper Klamath River and the Klamath Reclamation Project is still being gauged.

"The restoration of the Trinity won't reduce the need for restoration of the (Upper) Klamath," said Thomas Schlosser, the Seattle attorney for the Hoopa Valley Tribe.

The Trinity merges with the Upper Klamath River about 50 miles from the ocean to form the Lower Klamath River. The Hoopa Valley Tribe has a reservation on the Lower Klamath.

In the appeals court case decided by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, Westlands Water District, of California's Central Valley Project, had contended that a federal plan called for by Congress 20 years ago to increase flows and restoration projects on the Trinity violated environmental laws. The Hoopa Valley Tribe opposed the district.

Even with the ruling against the water district, the case isn't completely settled.

The district can petition for a rehearing by the appeals court, or it can petition for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This district is looking at all of its options," said Tupper Hull, district spokesman.

As is, the ruling won't affect flows this year, Schlosser said, and even with the increased flows the need for restoration will remain.

Although flows will be greater on the Trinity, still half of the river's water is diverted to the Central Valley Project, Schlosser said.

"So that (restoration) effort has to be ramped up," he said.

And, the timing of the flows could need to be adjusted, he added. He said the plan calls for most of the flows to come in the spring, leaving the Trinity low in the fall.

Upper Klamath Basin water interests and Klamath Reclamation Project officials have said more cold water from the Trinity would benefit salmon more than sending warm water from Upper Klamath Lake.

"We'll just have to wait and see the real benefits," said Allen Foreman, chairman of the Klamath Tribes. "On the surface, it looks like more water is going back to where it should be going, but the devil is in the details."

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said changes in Trinity flows won't be the sliver bullet that resolves water issues in the upper and lower Klamath basins.

He said there needs to be a watershed-wide solution, and one section of the system can't be pointed out as the root problem.

"We are sensitive to that because we have some of the same downstream interests pointing at the Klamath Project, saying that it is the one solution," he said.


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