After weeks of lobbying by tribes and experts monitoring water levels and temperature in the Klamath River, Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has authorized the release of water from its largest tributary to avert a fish kill.
With California suffering from prolonged drought, the Hoopa Valley, Karuk and Yurok tribes have been pressing officials to release water from Trinity River dams to prevent disease from starting and spreading among fish. Conditions, they said, had been dangerously close to those that killed tens of thousands of fish in 2002, compromising fisheries and traditional ways of life for years.
On August 22 the Bureau of Reclamation announced it will reverse a June 30 decision not to release water and will instead take water from Trinity Reservoir “to supplement flows in the lower Klamath River to help protect the returning run of adult Chinook salmon,” according to a statement.
“We have determined that unprecedented conditions over the past few weeks in the lower Klamath River require us to take emergency measures to help reduce the potential for a large-scale fish die-off,” said Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo in the statement. “This decision was made based on science and after consultation with Tribes, water and power users, federal and state fish regulatory agencies, and others.”
Youth from the tribes had resorted to making a video stating the case for a water release, and members of all three tribes descended upon state and federal offices in Sacramento on Monday August 18 to demand the water be released.
Tribal authorities called the move a victory for fishing rights, the environment and traditional knowledge.
“The Hoopa Tribe basically dropped everything they were working on to address this issue,” Hoopa Valley Tribe Chairwomen Danielle Vigil-Masten said in a statement. “The right thing for Secretary Jewell to do was to fulfill her trust responsibility to the Hoopa Valley and Yurok Tribes. This is an essential first step.”
“We fully recognize that during this prolonged severe drought, every acre-foot of water is extremely valuable, and we are making every effort to conserve water released for fish health purposes to reduce hardships wherever possible,” said Murillo.