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Deal May End Fight Over Water of Trinity River

A California irrigation agency offers to divert less of the waterway's flow in a settlement that could revive flagging salmon runs.

October 08, 2003|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A Central Valley water district is offering a deal that could end decades of wrangling over dwindling water flows that have undercut salmon runs on Northern California's Trinity River.

The Westlands Water District has been fighting the federal government and Indian tribes for years over water it diverts from the river to irrigate crops more than 300 miles to the south.

In 2000, federal officials approved a plan to increase the river's depleted flow -- with hopes of reviving the Trinity's flagging salmon stocks -- by reducing the water Westlands could siphon. The district sued to stop the plan.

Westlands officials said Tuesday that they are offering a settlement that comes close to meeting flows recommended by government scientists.

During a year of normal rainfall in the Trinity Basin, the government called for 647,000 acre-feet of water flowing down the river. Westlands is willing to settle for a river flow of 575,000 acre-feet, about 89% of what government scientists want to see. During years with below-normal rainfall, the water district would settle for a similar percentage.

"We want to end this dispute," said Tupper Hull, a Westlands spokesman. "We think this is a proposal that results in benefits to everyone, most particularly the fishery."

Tom Birmingham, Westlands general manager, appeared before Trinity County supervisors Tuesday to discuss the proposal. Next week, the water district expects to meet with Humboldt County as well as federal officials and the Hoopa, Yurok and other Northern California tribes that have depended on the river for generations.

Todd Bedrosian, a spokesman for the Hoopa, declined to respond until the tribe has had a chance to study the implications of the settlement offer.

Jeff McCracken, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman, said federal officials can't comment on the ongoing legal battle, but they hope it can be resolved out of court.

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