Members of the Yurok Tribe sat in on a hearing before a U.S. District Court judge last week, hearing a motion filed by inland Klamath River users to overturn a mandate requiring the Bureau of Reclamation to release more water into the river to prevent disease in baby salmon.
U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick heard a motion filed by the Klamath Water Users Association and four irrigation districts in an attempt to overturn the March 2017 injunction, according to a Yurok Tribe press release.
The judge is expected to make a ruling in a few weeks, according to a Yurok Tribe spokesman.
The increased water releases are an attempt to keep baby salmon from contracting Ceratonova Shasta, which can lead to mass juvenile fish die offs, according to the press release.
The original injunction stems from a lawsuit that the Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes as well as Earthjustice initiated against the Bureau of Reclamation after a record-low salmon run in 2016, according to the Yurok Tribe. The number of spawning salmon were significantly smaller in 2017 and is largely attributed to elevated disease rates among juvenile fish, according to the press release.
The proliferation of C. Shasta threatens the limited number of coho and chinook salmon that were born in 2017 and will be migrating to the ocean this spring, according to the Yurok Tribe’s press release.
The Yurok Tribe asked the federal judge to honor the remaining terms of the injunction, stating that it would reduce the possibility of another year similar to 2017.
Last year, the tribe canceled its subsistence and commercial fishing seasons to protect the few salmon that returned to the river, according to the press release.
In their motion, filed March 7, the Klamath Water Users Association, Sunnyside Irrigation District, Klamath Irrigation District, Klamath Drainage District and Ben Duval, a Tulelake farmer, stated the injunction isn’t necessary and should not apply to 2018.
The motion was meant to avoid unnecessary harm to irrigators in “what is already expected to be a water-short year,” according to the KUWA motion.
Orrick issued the injunction in winter 2016 and requires increased pulse flows above Endangered Species Act biological opinion requirements. One flow is meant to dislodge aquatic worms that can cause disease in salmon and another is required to reserve 50,000 acre-feet of water to dilute the spores of the parasite if various triggers are met in spring.
In the March 7 motion, KUWA president Brad Kirby argued that even though last year was wet, water users weren’t able to start irrigating on time because of the possibility that a dilution flow may be required.
The situation for inland water users is worse this year, Kirby said. The reserve for dilution can hurt them even if it doesn’t have to be used, he said in a written statement in March.