FRESNO -- Farmers in California's San Joaquin Valley are suing the federal government over the planned release of water from a Northern California reservoir to prevent a salmon kill in the lower Klamath River.
The suit alleges the release from the Trinity Reservoir would be unlawful and would further decrease the little water available to farmers for irrigation. It was filed Wednesday by the Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The Trinity River is the main tributary of the Klamath. A large portion of Trinity water usually is sent south into the Sacramento River and is piped to farmers in the San Joaquin Valley through the Central Valley Project.
Farmers in the Westlands Water District, the nation's largest federal irrigation district, and others on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley say they desperately need the Trinity water to help deal with severe water shortages next year. The farmers have received just 20 percent of their water deliveries this year, leading them to fallow thousands of acres of land and rely on groundwater.
And next year, unless a very wet winter restores nearly empty reservoirs, the farmers predict they might get little or no water -- and the lack of Trinity River water would further reduce their deliveries.
Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero said the agency could not comment on the pending lawsuit.
But federal authorities said they planned to release the Trinity water to the Klamath River to prevent a repeat of a 2002 fish kill that left tens of thousands of salmon dead before they could spawn -- the fish died from gill rotting diseases because there was not enough water for them to swim upstream.
The Bush administration that year restored irrigation to farms in Oregon and California, one year after those farms were denied water during a drought to help threatened salmon and other fish survive in the Klamath basin.
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