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by JUDY HODGSON
The Hoopa Valley and the Yurok
tribes won a major victory in court last week to increase the
flow of water from a dam into the Trinity River. The Ninth U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed a January
ruling by a Fresno judge in favor of Central Valley water users
and ordered a restoration plan to go forward.
It's about time.
"Twenty years have passed
since Congress passed the first major act calling for restoration
of the Trinity River and rehabilitation of its fish populations,"
Judge Alfred Goodwin wrote in the court's opinion. "And
almost another decade has elapsed since Congress set a minimal
flow level for the river to force rehabilitative action."
This is a story I've been covering
since I started reporting in 1981. Doug Bosco was the North Coast
representative in Congress, and he was having some success in
getting money for restoration projects. Of course, we now know
much of that money was wasted. Vegetation grows back without
the river flushing itself clean. Gravel dumped for spawning habitat
doesn't do any good without adequate water flows.
Many think the story of the
Trinity's decimated fish population began in 1955 when legislation
was passed to create the Central Valley Project, or in 1963 when
the dams on the Trinity were completed. But the real story, one
of broken promises, began in the late 1800s. That was when the
Yurok Tribe, which historically fished the Klamath River, gave
up hundreds of acres of aboriginal land in return for fishing
rights on the Trinity.
Although officials with the
Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees dams,
claimed in the 1950s that the "fishing would be improved"
by the Central Valley project and "no more than 56 percent"
of the water would be diverted, the government reneged and the
fishery rather quickly declined to 90 percent of pre-dam levels.
(See the Aug. 15, 2002 Journal cover story "River
War: The Fight Over the Trinity" online at www.northcoastjournal.com.)
By the late 1970s Trinity County
and particularly the Hoopa Tribe, which has taken a proactive
lead in gathering its own independent scientific data, began
fighting back in court. In 1981 a 12-year study was ordered by
the Carter Administration, followed in 1984 by legislation mandating
"restoration of fish and wildlife population to levels which
existed preceding construction of the Trinity Diversion."
Finally, in 1991, flows began to be increased in the Trinity.
I had a conversation a few years
back with Mike Thompson, our current representative in Congress,
about river diversion. He has always been in a tough spot, especially
regarding the Eel River, 85 percent of which is diverted to the
majority of his water-thirsty, agricultural-dependent constituents
south of Humboldt. He told me, "You can't just turn off
the spigot" on existing water users elsewhere.
No, but you can start turning
the tap because it's the right thing, the necessary thing, to
do to speed up the repair of the rivers and to restore the fisheries.
Alarm bells began sounding in
the 1970s -- more than three decades ago -- and we're just getting
around to hearing them?
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