Hoopa tribe protests Westlands water cuts in Fresno

FRESNO, Calif.

The protestors outside the Federal Courthouse in Fresno on Wednesday were members of the Hoopa tribe. They came nearly 500 miles from their reservation near Eureka to make their voices heard.

Hoopa Tribe Chairwoman Danielle Vigil Masten told Action News, "Our fish are dying and that's why we're here. And so the river is our vessel of life and we want to get our water so we make sure we don't have another fish kill like we did in 2002."

Tribal members are concerned because conditions like the water level and the warm temperatures in the Klamath River now are almost identical to conditions that existed back in 2002 when tens of thousands of Salmon died. Government scientists say without releasing more water from a dam on the Trinity River, which flows into the Klamath, to cool things off the migrating salmon could be hit with the same deadly parasite that struck eleven years ago. Devastating the tribes livelihood.

"This is how people make a living, off of commercial fishing and also they eat it," said Danielle Vigil Masten. "So the fisheries is really important for the Hoopa Valley people."

But the Westlands Water District says the water is needed for its hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in the Central Valley. They already convinced Judge Lawrence O'Neil to temporarily halt any additional water releases. The tribe and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation are in court to try and get that overturned. They say they won't need to use nearly as much water as Westlands claims. Water rights expert Lloyd Carter of the California Save Our Streams Council has been following the case.

"I think the most significant news that came out of this morning's session was that the Federal Government does not plan to use 109 thousand acre feet of water which Westland's was worried about but only 20 thousand acre feet," said Carter. "Westland's has got to be glad that 80 percent of their problem has gone away so we're really only arguing about 20 thousand acre feet of water."

But Westlands is concerned because government biologists say in the worst case scenario they could have to use a lot more water if signs of disease show up in the salmon.

In a written statement Westlands General manager Tom Birmingham said, "No one wants to see a repeat of the loss of Chinook salmon in the lower Klamath River that occurred in 2002.Westlands is merely trying to enforce the rules and the decisions previously made by the federal government."

A decision on whether to lift the injunction and allow more water to flow is expected this week.

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