Fresno judge says water can be released for salmon

FRESNO, Calif.

Judge Lawrence O'Neill refused the water district's request for an injunction to stop additional water releases into the Trinity River, and lifted the temporary restraining order he had earlier granted the district.

In his ruling O'Neill cited testimony from biologists who said without additional water the migrating salmon in the Klamath River could become stuck in one place and become susceptible to a parasitic disease like the illness that killed tens of thousands of fish in the Klamath back in 2002. The Trinity flows into the Klamath in Northern California, some 500 miles from Fresno.

Fisheries Biologist Dr. Joshua Strange was the key witness for the government and the Indian tribes and commercial fishing interests fighting Westlands. After the trial he told Action News:

"In this case it's important to balance the biological bottom line for the fish and those people who rely on the fish. And also the good news is it's a relatively modest amount of water that's needed, it's not going to cause any additional hardship this year."

The government had projected the extra water would amount to about 20,000 acre feet. Westlands acknowledged that their share of that water allotment would go into storage for next year.

While Westlands claimed any amount of water would be helpful, their only witness in the case, a biologist agreed that the fish probably needed the water.

Attorney Jan Hasselman, from Earth Justice was representing various commercial fishing interests. After the case he told Action News:

"I think we put on a very compelling case, with the science that supports the very basic principle that fish need water. There wasn't anybody that disagrees that it's important to add a little more water to the river this year to avoid one of these fish kills."

The case brought members of the Hoopa and Yoruk tribes to Fresno. Hoopa members protested outside the Federal Courthouse on the opening day of the trial on Wednesday. The tribes rely on the fish for both food and income, as they sell part of their allotment of salmon.

Biologists testified that this appeared to be the second biggest salmon run in history, with about a quarter of a million fish expected to arrive at the mouth of the Klamath in the next few days.

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