Klamath River orders to protect endangered salmon affirmed by judge

By Elizabeth Alt | May 14, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has clarified orders to enforce the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to distribute water to the Klamath River Project to protect endangered salmon vital to the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes.

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has clarified orders to enforce the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to distribute water to the Klamath River Project to protect endangered salmon vital to the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes.

Judge William H. Orrick delivered the opinion on April 30, reaffirming an earlier ruling that endangered species must be given priority and denying the defendant U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, et al.’s motions. 

Orrick stated that the defendants had not provided enough evidence to support their argument that a different model would “justify suspending or modifying the injunctions.”

“Federal defendants’ arguments are no more convincing today than they were at the time of the injunction order,” according to the opinion.

The BOR and National Marine Fisheries Services filed a motion asking to stay or relieve enforcement of the order requiring water deliveries to the Klamath River, claiming that the river’s current “drier hydrological conditions” would make it impossible to fully comply with the requirement, also noting the order will affect water supplies for the Klamath River districts.

In 2016 the Hoopa Valley and Yurok Tribes filed individual suits claiming operations during the Klamath River Project in 2014 and 2015 created water instability that introduced a disease that killed many of the endangered Coho salmon. The salmon’s well-being is integral to both tribes’ survival and part of their culture. The tribes claimed the federal organizations operating the Klamath River Project failed to “reinitiate formal consultation and prepare a new Biological Opinion for the Klamath River Project” and moved for summary judgment and permanent injunctions that would require certain guidelines, the opinion states.

Orrick issued the ruling in 2017 with guidelines that included measures to “release annual winter-spring surface flushing flows” along with an emergency flow and reserve water supply that would “supplement those flows” to protect and preserve the salmon.

The defendants argue that the orders are unnecessary now due to new scientific evidence that they have, but Orrick denied that argument because the evidence in question was done after the date of the court order.

Orrick stated that the defendants should update the Biological Opinion as soon as possible to reflect the "best available science” and asked “the able scientists who are working on this issue attempt to reach consensus on whether the best available science has changed since issuance of the 2013 Biological Opinion to the extent that the injunctions should be modified prior to water year 2019.”

Orrick noted that the defendants must comply with at least one model in the modified order to deliver water and refuted the defendant’s arguments that river conditions will affect their ability to meet their obligations, stating their “contention that it is impossible to fulfill both measures seem unfounded.”

The order clarifies “that the modified injunction orders demand partial compliance if full compliance is not possible, as is consistent with preserving the status quo.”

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California case number 3:16-cv-06863-WHO 

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