Editorial: What's The Responsible Path Here?

Editorial: What's The Responsible Path Here?Record Searchlight, Redding.com May 7, 2015


On the face of it, Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s recent amendment to a House appropriations bill limiting the amount of water sent down the Trinity River sounds almost humanitarian.

LaMalfa, R-Richvale, says he hopes to accomplish two very important things by forcing the transfer of water released from Lewiston Lake east toward the Sacramento River instead.

Sending water our way puts it into a place where it could supply hundreds of thousands of Californians suffering from the four-year drought. And on its way that water will do double duty as it passes through the Carr Powerhouse at Whiskeytown Lake and the Spring Creek Powerhouse at Keswick Lake.

Those powerhouses generate electricity for the Redding Electric Utility. The more hydropower they generate, the less REU has to buy power from elsewhere, where it’s more expensive.

“We need every drop we can spare during this crisis and this amendment will put an end to this misuse,” LaMalfa said in a statement.

LaMalfa, a rice farmer, understand farmers’ needs. Although his farms draw on Feather River water, he knows the importance of every drop to the powerful Westlands Water District and farming interests in the San Joaquin Valley.

LaMalfa accuses the Bureau of Reclamation of violating the Trinity Record of Decision, an agreement signed in 2000 by the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the Department of the Interior after 20 years of environmental studies. It’s a compromise agreement seeking to repair endangered salmon habitat almost destroyed by damming the Trinity River.

It sets suggested appropriate water flows for dry years and wet years and those in between — flows LaMalfa says are “required,” but abandoned by the bureau. But that’s not really the case. The agreement recommends a peak flow of 4,500 cubic feet a second in dry years. That is not a requirement. It’s a recommendation.

And, as we learned to our dismay in another drought year — 2002 — two years after the agreement was signed, there are times when those recommendations just aren’t sufficient. In that year more than 35,000 chinook salmon and other fish died after the Bush Administration ordered diversion of Klamath River water to farmers in Oregon and far Northern California. Scientists concluded the water levels fell too low for that fall’s salmon run, and the water got too warm. The fish sickened and died. Thousands of them, scarred and covered with ulcers, littered the shores. So now, especially in drought years, the bureau exceeds the recommended releases in an effort to flush disease-causing pathogens out of the river and ease fish crowding. This years’s release peaked this week when it hit 8,500 cfs on Tuesday and Wednesday. By next Tuesday the flow will be back down to 2,900 cfs — well below the peak recommended level.

True, that’s a lot of water released over a few days, but we’re talking here about saving a species. We’re also talking about a huge North State tourist attraction drawing anglers from all over the globe. We’re talking about tribes with rights to some of those fish.

Farm interests from the Central Valley and Westlands have joined together in lawsuits aimed at tapping the bulk of that water meant to save the salmon. In 2013 a federal judge in Fresno actually reversed his initial ruling in their favor after hearing more evidence, and approved sending additional water down the Trinity to help those spawning Chinook. He found that failing to provide more water to help the fish would cause more environmental harm than it would prevent.

As for Redding’s need for more water to support its “sustainable energy” hydropower, what’s sustainable about killing off a species?

LaMalfa thinks the bureau’s releases are irresponsible. They are precisely the opposite.