Fishing businesses and conservation groups filed suit on June 3 against the Washington Department of Ecology, saying the agency has failed endangered salmon by preventing beneficial water releases over dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The water releases over dams, or spill, is critical to aid migrating salmon and steelhead past the dams.
“I am fed up with Ecology’s willingness to allow the hydro-system to kill too many endangered fish and ignore both science and economic reality,” said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, a trade organization for West Coast commercial fishing families. “This case seeks to give salmon more of what they need to survive, as well as help the coastal and inland communities that depend on those fish for their livelihoods.”
“We have spent too much money and put in too much effort to bring back our Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead to stand by while Ecology denies the public’s fish their best chance of survival,” said Norman Ritchie, Government Affairs Director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders.
The lawsuit, filed in Thurston County Superior Court, follows Ecology’s recent decision to deny a petition filed on behalf of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, and Idaho Rivers United to change the standards governing how much water may be released over the dams. The groups are represented by Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest law firm.
The petition sought to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release more water in greater volume than is permitted under Washington’s current restrictions. Increasing the amount of water released – or “spilled” – over the dams increases salmon survival by allowing more fish to avoid the dam’s lethal turbines as they make their journey to the ocean.
An in-stream water rights policy covering the five California counties north of the Bay Area appears to have come together just ahead of what might have been intense legal wrangling and other conflict.
On May 4 the State Water Board adopted a policy for water quality control titled “Policy for Maintaining Instream Flows in Northern California Coastal Streams”. The policy contains principles and guidelines for maintaining instream flows for the purposes of water right administration. The geographic scope of the policy encompasses coastal streams from the Mattole River to San Francisco and coastal streams entering northern San Pablo Bay and extends to five counties: Marin, Sonoma, and portions of Napa, Mendocino, and Humboldt Counties.
The policy must now be approved by the State Office of Administrative Law.
The full policy as adopted is available online.
The action may free up processing of hundreds of water rights applications in the region, which have been put on hold pending development of a policy.
It almost didn’t happen. Work on the policy goes back to 2007, and drafts have circulated since early the following year, but disputes were frequent. A draft circulated in February this year appeared close and was scheduled for action in April, but a number of environmental groups said they thought was too vague. And the legislators from the area circulated a letter saying they were “disappointed that the draft policy has ignored many of the policy suggestions brought forth by stakeholders.”
On April 27, one more attempt at a joint agreement was made in a session closed off from the public but including most of the stakeholders. It emerged with a general agreement.
The next North Coast Regional Board meeting is slated for June 10.
[see also North Bay Business Journal, May 24]
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks at a signing of the agreement with Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski/California Governor’s Office
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski have signed final agreements advancing the historic resolution of Klamath River resource issues and the Klamath River dams, along with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, PacifiCorp Chief Executive Officer Greg Abel and the chairmen of the Klamath, Yurok and Karuk Tribes.
The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement begin the process of the largest dam removal and river restoration project in our nation’s history. The actions detailed in the two agreements will also restore what was once one of California’s largest salmon runs.
“Today’s historic agreement is testament to the great things we can achieve by working together,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “Everyone here cares about the magnificent Klamath River and we are taking action now to preserve this natural wonder for generations to come.”
In November 2008, Governor Schwarzenegger, with then-Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and Governor Kulongoski, signed an Agreement in Principal to remove the Klamath dams (three in California and one in Oregon). During the past 15 months, dozens of parties have met on a regular basis to complete the final Dam Removal Agreement. There is a complex framework for dam removal that balances the timing of removal of each of the four dams with operating conditions and the costs of replacement power for PacifiCorp customers. Subject to Congressional approval and Department of Interior environmental review, the final agreement provides a target removal date of 2020 for the first dam, with removal of the remaining dams following as soon as possible. Additional environmental and engineering work will determine precisely how and in what order that process takes place.
The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement provides for restoration of important salmon habitat on Klamath tributaries and allocates water rights and guarantees water deliveries for both farmers and for the environment. The basin restoration will cost about $1 billion over 10 years and will be financed by the federal government. The agreement is also subject to Congressional approval. [California Governor's office] Continue Reading »
From the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council:
The PFRCC released a report entitled “Freshwater for Fish and People: Moving Towards “Living Water Smart”” that advocates for treating water as a scarce resource and promotesstronger water management practices to protect salmon ecosystems.
“After this long hot summer, the need to maintain adequate flows in streams for salmon is clearer than ever,” said Mark Angelo,Chair of the PFRCC (www.fish.bc.ca). “It is imperative that the Province must update the ‘Water Act’ and take the steps required to protect water resources for salmon and their ecosystems. For too long, salmon needs have taken a back seat to the withdrawal of water from streams for other purposes such as agricultural and industrial use.”
The report examines attempts in other jurisdictions, including Alberta, Washington State and Australia, to resolve water issues through better balance between instream and out-of-stream water use. “This review made it clear that a legal basis such as a more balanced Water Act, is needed to ensure adequate flows are retained and that interested parties work together to improve water efficiency, which will in turn benefit fish,” added Angelo.
The report is accompanied by a plain-language brochure that explains why a new approach toward water use and management is urgently needed. It also identifies a variety of tools than can effectively resolve conflicts between excessive water extraction and ecosystem needs. These includeeducation, conservation, financial incentives, water pricing and regulatory penalties. The Council recommends that they be used not independently, but rather as part of a comprehensive new package on water management, and in ways that increase the flexibility of decision makers to respond to local needs and local information. Continue Reading »
A $430,000 stream restoration effect planned for underwriting by federal stimulus money was thrown into question this week when water rights surrounding the Big Wood River tributary stream were thrown into question.
The question has to do in part with whether the restoration of the stream will impair delivery of water to nearby ranching operations.
The work on the stream would be intended to help wildlife and fish runs, and make it a more meandering stream. Advocates say that water rights holders should not see any problems as a result of the work, but some of them are skeptical.
The Ketchum Idaho Mountain Express noted that “The applications that must be approved to allow the project to move forward are not tied to just any ranch. The 1,619-acre property—once known as the Diamond Dragon Ranch—has the oldest water rights in Blaine County, dating back to 1880. Because of that, decisions related to water use on the ranch have a way of catching the ear of just about every water rights holder in the Big Wood drainage.”
[Ketchum (ID) Mountain Express, August 12]
The state level of a long-running water battle in the Klamath River Basin appeared, in May, to have been resolved in the wake of a counterpart federal settlement.
The limited water in the Klamath, sought after by irrigators, the Klamath Tries of Oregon, fish advocates and others, has been the subject of legal battles for more than a decade. In 2001 irrigation was shut off, hurting farmers but helping the fish; in 2002, irrigators got their water but tens of thousands of fish were reported as having been killed. In January 2008, involved groups agreed to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which provided for dam removal and an approach for apportioning the water.
That still left state water issued unaccounted for. But on May 20 the tribes and the irrigators filed with the state Department of Water Resources an agreement with a plan that reflects the federal approach.
[see Eureka (CA) Times-Standard, May 22]
The Denver Post on May 15 reviewed federal progress toward obtaining water rights for the national parks.
The article noted that “The Park Service already has won water rights for 25 parks in nine Western states, the last two for Colorado’s Black Canyon and Great Sand Dunes. Eight more agreements are being negotiated.”
It said that the effort to secure water rights for the Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park, on the west slope, was a process running 36 years and many appearances in court.
The developer of a new RV park, Lazy Z Meadows, near the small city of Sisters has agreed to sell 63 acre-feet of early-priority date water to the Deschutes River Conservancy and associated organizations.
The purchase price was said to be upwards of $400,000. The rights are located on the east side of the Cascade Mountains.
The water is expected to be used in-stream at Whychus Creek, to encourage fish flows.
Developers said they did not expect the water would be needed for their efforts. A downturn in the region’s development economy may also have been a factor. [see Oregon Public Broadcasting, April 30]
The Oregon Supreme Court has agreed to undertake a review of some of the water right claims in the dramatically changing Klamath River basin near the Oregon-California line.
The Center for Progressive Reform offers an extended look back at water rights developments in the basin.
Water rights in the bitterly-fought Klamath River basin will go to the Oregon Supreme Court for partial settlement, the high court said on January 29.
The case does not arrive in the usual way as an appeal within the state’s own court system, however. It is a referral from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had been considering water right claims filed under federal law. Federal agencies said that all the water available under those provisions were appropriated in 1905. The federal court asked the state court to determine if more rights, and if so what rights those might be, were available under state law.