Agricultural water providers in the Central Valley of California asked a federal judge to stop releases of extra water intended to help salmon in the Klamath Basin survive the drought.
The petition for a temporary injunction was filed late Monday in U.S. District Court in Fresno by Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, which supply farmers.
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At issue is water held in a reservoir on the Trinity River, which has been divided between the Trinity and Sacramento river basins for more than 50 years.
To prevent a repeat of a 2002 fish kill that left tens of thousands of Klamath River salmon dead, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation started increasing flows into the Trinity River on Saturday.
The flows are intended to prevent the spread of disease and get adult salmon to start moving upstream. The fish are a source of commercial and subsistence fisheries by Klamath Basin tribes and sport fishing by the public.
The water districts argued that the releases for salmon are not authorized by laws governing the apportionment of Trinity River water, and that releasing extra water for salmon will cause harm to the districts.
The bureau did not reduce the amount of water going to irrigators, but if the drought continues, there will be less water in the reservoir next year.
In a memo filed with the court, the bureau wrote that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell based her decision to release extra water on a 1955 law that allows for export of some of the Trinity's water to the Central Valley, as well as the federal government's responsibility to protect tribal resources such as salmon.
A longstanding lawsuit over how the water is shared is nearing a ruling. Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill wrote that he expected to issue a ruling on the injunction request by Thursday.
Hoop Valley Tribe Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten said the injunction petition by the districts made her feel like she was in a David-Goliath fight.
"They have deep pockets, and we are a tribe that works off a little subsidy from the federal government,' she said.
Water district lawyer Dan O'Hanlon said in an email he had no comment.