Water Battle Ends In Central
S.F. Daily Journal - Jan 25,
Journal Staff Writer
SAN FRANCISCO - A huge Central
Valley irrigation district, concluding its chances of a U.S.
Supreme Court review were "extraordinarily low," has brought to an
end one of the state's fiercest water battles. In deciding to abide by a 9th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding most elements of a plan to
restore the Trinity River in Northern
California, the Westlands Water District preserved a major
environmental victory for American Indians.
Lawyers for Westlands and its legal ally, the Northern California Power
Agency, notified U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger in Fresno
of the decision Friday. In so doing,
they removed a legal cloud from a 2000 agreement between the Clinton
administration and Indian tribes to retain water in the river, rather than
diverting it for irrigation. Federal law guaranteed the Hoopa Valley Tribe a
role in developing plans to restore the Trinity.
"This now clears one of the last remaining legal hurdles and opens
the way for full restoration of the Trinity River to
begin," Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Clifford Lyle Marshall said in a
written statement. But he noted that
challenges remain, including threatened cuts to federal spending for river
restoration. The Bush administration had always said it would abide by the
restoration plan. But according to an attorney for the Hoopa, the government
did not challenge the substance of a 2002 Wanger ruling that would have delayed
its implementation by requiring further environmental studies.
Thomas Schlosser, a Seattle
attorney representing the Hoopa, said the Indians' involvement was critical.
"The tribes were fighting for the [2000 plan] and against unnecessary
environmental analysis," said Schlosser, a lawyer with Morisset,
Schlosser, Jozwiak & McGaw. "We were the only party arguing that on
The Yurok Tribe, which, like the Hoopa, historically depended on the
river's salmon runs for sustenance, had joined in the legal defense of the
The restoration plan, announced with great fanfare near the end of the Clinton
administration, cut water exports from the Trinity by an average of about 28
percent. That was meant to preserve flows for such species as salmon and
Historically, as much as 88 percent of the Trinity's flow had been
diverted to the Sacramento River for use in the federal
government's giant Central Valley Project. Most of the water from that system
of dams and canals goes to agricultural interests, such as Westlands.
The Trinity diversions have been blamed for dramatic reductions in fish
The 9th Circuit in July unanimously rejected demands by plan opponents
to conduct further environmental studies. Westlands Water District v.
Department of Interior, 376 F.3d 853 (2004).
Detractors, led by Westlands, had hoped that those reviews would reduce
the amount of water needed to restore the river's environment.
The 9th Circuit reversed Wanger's determination that the federal
government had not adequately studied the available alternatives for addressing
the river's problems. However, the appeals court upheld some elements of
Wanger's ruling, which Westlands General Manager Thomas Birmingham said would
potentially reduce the amount of water lost to irrigation.
Birmingham said Westlands
decided not to continue the court fight for practical reasons. He cited the
"extraordinarily low probability" that the Supreme Court would grant
a writ of certiorari. "I certainly don't agree with the 9th Circuit
decision. I think there are many problems with its logic," Birmingham
said. However, he concluded, "We will just have to live with it."
He said the Interior Department, which runs the Central Valley Project,
had been working to find other sources of supplying water to the district.
Jeff McCracken, a spokesman for Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, said
officials next will measure precipitation and other factors used to determine
how much water can be released for irrigation. A panel including government and
tribal officials will recommend the timing of the releases from Trinity
reservoirs. "There is nothing now that stands in the way of
implementing" the restoration plan, he said.
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