Environmentalists say water district destroys salmon habitat, violates ESA
By TIM HEARDEN
MONTAGUE, Calif. -- An environmental group has followed through on its threat to sue a water district over the operation of a roughly 90-year-old dam in Siskiyou County it believes is causing losses of federally protected coho salmon.
The Orleans, Calif.-based Klamath Riverkeeper filed an Endangered Species Act suit in federal court in Sacramento May 17 after having given the Montague Water Conservation District 60 days' notice in March, a news release announced.
The suit calls on the irrigation district to remedy the Dwinnell Dam's impacts to salmon runs, which the group asserts are on the verge of extinction.
"We simply have to better manage limited water resources to benefit everyone in the watershed," Klamath Riverkeeper executive director Erica Terence said in a statement. "We hope to resolve this issue in a way that will restore endangered coho salmon while preserving a viable agricultural economy in Siskiyou County."
The Karuk Tribe signaled its intentions to join the lawsuit, filing its own 60-day notice to litigate on the same grounds. Craig Tucker, the tribe's Klamath coordinator, told the Capital Press that it wants to "find a way to balance water use between farms and the fishing community ... so that everyone can have their needs met."
Lisa Faris, the Montague water district's office manager, said May 17 she did not yet have a comment about the suit.
Klamath Riverkeeper argues that the dam, which creates the Shastina Reservoir and provides water to agricultural and residential customers, has caused a loss of 20 percent of habitat for coho in the Shasta River since it was built in the 1920s, Terence has said.
The group believes the water district is violating the Endangered Species Act by operating the dam without an incidental take permit. The group asserts it has documentation that the dam has caused such water quality and fisheries problems as toxic algae blooms, elevated water temperatures lethal to fish and blocked access to upstream habitat.
Klamath Riverkeeper's lawsuit is only the latest in a series of skirmishes between environmental groups and landowners over the use of water from the Shasta and Scott rivers, which are key tributaries of the Klamath River.
Klamath Riverkeeper: www.klamathriver.org
Karuk Tribe: http://www.karuk.us/karuk2/index.php