SAN FRANCISCO - The Hoopa Valley Tribe enjoyed a significant win when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that more water must be released into the Klamath River.
Judge William Orrick addressed concerns that the Bureau of Reclamation violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in separate cases that the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Yurok Tribe both filed against the bureau. Orrick also addressed Hoopa Valley’s motion for summary judgment against the National Marines Fisheries Service (NMFS).
The bureau runs the Klamath Irrigation Project that alters water flows on the Klamath River in order to provide water to irrigation districts in Oregon and Northern California. The Klamath River carries Coho salmon to the Trinity River, which feeds the Hoopa Valley Tribe.
In 2013, a biological opinion said the bureau must manage the percentage of salmon infected by Ceratanova shasta (C. Shasta), keeping the number 49 percent.
In 2014, 81 percent of the salmon were in infected and in 2015 the number rose to 91 percent.
“It was catastrophic,” Hoopa Valley Tribe chairman Ryan Jackson told Northern California Record. “There is less than one salmon per tribesman that has returned to the Trinity River.”
On July 29, 2016, the tribe filed a suit against both the bureau and NMFS looking for declaratory and injunctive relief. According to the opinion, the tribe said the agencies were, “in violation of the ESA because they have failed to re-initiate formal consultation on the impact of Klamath Project operations on threatened Coho salmon.”
After that case was filed, the bureau and NMFS sent letters to the tribe stating that they were entering into formal consultation about the water flow. They filed a motion to dismiss the suit saying the complaint was moot since they had started the consultation.
They also pointed out that the percentage dropped to 48 percent in 2016. Orrick said the percentage being 1 percent below the allowed amount in an extremely wet year was “not particularly comforting.”
Orrick ruled the agencies violated the ESA by not initiating consultation and that they must create a flow plan to release water into the Klamath River.
Jackson said this decision is a “monumental victory,” not just for the Hoopa Valley Tribe but for all U.S. tribes.
“Indian people across the country have not been treated fairly by the federal government,” Jackson said. “Tribes are stepping up and defending their rights. These types of victories go a long way. Indian country is not going to sit idle while our natural resources are destroyed.”
Jackson said he feels that the tribe can begin relying on the federal government to start taking action.
“We have what I would consider a very good relationship with the regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation,” Jackson said. “They’ve been open and willing to sit down and address these longstanding issues.”
Jackson said he will be meeting with the bureau and NMFS to talk about release schedules and develop a long-term plan.