Several groups file suit over federal water
HEATHER HACKING - Chico ER Staff Writer
Several environmental groups, fisheries advocates and the Winnemem Wintu tribe filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against federal agencies, alleging planned operation of federal and state water conveyance systems is not based on sound science.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, is backed by groups including Earthjustice, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association, the Bay Institute, Baykeeper, California Trout, Friends of the River, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern California Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers and Sacramento River Preservation Trust.
It names as defendants the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of the Interior.
The suit contends that plans to increase pumping capacity in the Bay Delta and decrease storage in Lake Shasta will harm fish and that a biological opinion that states otherwise is faulty.
The NOAA Fisheries "made a bogus biological opinion (in October 2004) that it would not harm endangered steelhead and salmon," said Steve Evans of Friends of the River.
"The bureau is eliminating retention of cold water for salmon and sending that water down earlier in the year and it won't be available in dry years," Evans said.
Currently, large pumps in the Delta allow for 6,400 cubic-feet-per-second to be sent to irrigation districts and state water project users south of the Delta. The plan is to increase that capacity to 8,500 cfs.
"It comes from re-operation of Shasta Reservoir — taking water that used to be stored and retained for cold water and releasing it earlier in the irrigation system," Evans said.
"This is water from the Sacramento Valley sent to the San Joaquin Valley," he said.
"The Bureau (of Reclamation) by some estimates is proposing for 1 million more acre-feet of water."
Litigator Mike Sherwood of Earthjustice said there are five species of salmon and steelhead fish that are threatened and/or endangered.
"Warm water can be fatal to winter run Chinook salmon," Sherwood said.
He said the decision by NOAA that changes in operations won't affect fish is "politically based, but the science says the contrary."
"The fish are in too much trouble," Sherwood said. Delta smelt are at record lows in the Delta. "It's not the time to increase pumping based on politics."
"A lot of water has been transferred away from ag in the last 10 years" as state and federal officials engaged in efforts to revive the Delta, said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition. "Communities have suffered because of that, and to deny the replacement of some of the water is unconscionable."
Part of the re-operation plan of the water system would also move the area where temperature is watched from Bend Bridge to Ball's Ferry, a difference of 19 miles.
Hal Candee of the Natural Resources Defense Council said that NOAA Fisheries scientist previously said the changes would cause "jeopardy to salmon" but the Bush Administration, under the Department of Commerce, reversed that conclusion.
Sacramento River Preservation Trust President John Merz said he finds it puzzling that tens of millions of dollars were spent at Lake Shasta for a temperature control device for fish. The "proposal to eliminate that cold water pool would render that device ineffective," Merz said.
He said he believes the state has a "master plan that envisions the north state using groundwater to make up for surface water going south."
"This is the same planning as Mono Lake and the Owens Valley," Merz said. "Water flows to money. That's what we have going here if we're not careful."
Winnemen Wintu Tribe government liaison Gary Mulcahy said his people want to see the salmon restored on the McCloud River. The salmon are central in the tribe's culture and history.
"The winter run Chinook are the fish we have the most affinity with in our culture, prayers, songs and history," Mulcahy said.
"We have to do this differently and do it right to protect future generations, not for the profits of some people right now," he said.
Staff writer Heather Hacking can be reached at 896-7758 or email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
"Copyrighted article reprinted with permission"