It’s Time For SMUD To Stop Blocking
by Dan Bacher
March 28, 2003
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has always prided itself on its reputation as “green energy” utility, touting its energy conservation, electric car and solar energy programs as examples of its commitment to creating more environmentally-friendly electricity. However, its continuing refusal to pull out of its lawsuit with the Westlands Water District blocking Trinity River restoration is making its “Greenergy” program look increasingly like a fraud.
As Clifford Lyle Marshall, chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, said in the “Guest Comment” in the “Sacramento News & Review” last November, SMUD “ is setting the stage for the next Trinity River fish kill. The SMUD board voted to do this despite the Hoopa Valley tribe asking SMUD to drop a lawsuit that would damage both the river and fish. The deaths of 30,000 fish on the Klamath River in Humboldt County are a tragic indication of how political expediency combined with economic greed can destroy a unique part of California’s environment.”
Marshall’s words are particularly appropriate now that we are looking at another dry year in the Klamath Basin. If the Bush administration continues in its tradition of serving subsidized agriculture over the water needs of fish and the tribes, there could very well be another fish kill this year comparable or even worse than the one that took place last year.
Although the fish kill was instigated by the Bush administration’s diversion of water to subsidized farmers in the Klamath Basin, resulting in lethally warm water conditions in the lower Klamath in September, SMUD played a big role in the tragedy. According to Mike Orcutt, Hoopa Tribe fishery program manager, the lawsuit blocked the release of cold, clear water that could have alleviated the lethal water conditions on the Klamath once the fish kill had started. The kill had a dramatic impact upon the Trinity River fall chinook salmon run, as evidenced by the fact that for the first time in memory, the spring run was larger than the fall run.
SMUD’s withdrawal from the litigation now would send a powerful message to Federal District Court Judge Oliver Wanger, who on December 10 blocked a mandate that would provide badly-needed water for the Trinity River. The decision blocked the 2002 Record Decision by Secretary of Interior Babbitt that would have allocated 47 percent - not the majority of flows - to the Trinity. The other 53 percent would go to agriculture, power generation and domestic users.
The R.O.D. was necessary to restore salmon and steelhead runs on the Trinity River, historically one of the best habitats for both species in the state and the major tributary of the Klamath. Salmon and steelhead runs on the Trinity River are now only 12 percent of historical levels, due to massive diversions of water to the Sacramento River and then down the Delta-Mendota Canal to the Westlands Water District.
At this point, the Justice Department has filed an appeal from Wanger’s decision on the length of time for completion of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Trinity Restoration from four months to 18 months, according to Byron Leydecker of Friends of the Trinity River and California Trout.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also recommended to the Interior Department that two additional requirements in Wanger’s decision be appealed: (1) his vast broadening of the purpose and scope of the SEIS and (2) the evaluation of additional alternatives for restoration, including analysis of SMUD’s discredited alternative. Although this recommendation has been already made, the final decision will be based upon a recommendation from the Interior Secretary to the Attorney General, John Ashcroft, who has the ultimate decision making authority on the filing of the appeal.
The Interior Secretary has not yet decided upon the appeal of other “critically important issues” in Wanger’s decision that are “extremely adverse to Trinity River restoration,” according to Leydecker.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe has also filed a motion for a stay of Wanger’s decison until it is reviewed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tribe has already filed an appeal of Wanger’s decision.
It is crucial that anglers, environmentalists, and SMUD ratepayers flood SMUD with letters urging the utility’s board to save its reputation and protect a fishery vital to the North Coast economy by withdrawing from the lawsuit now. On Friday, March 14, I delivered 141 letters from local anglers and ratepayers to the office of Susan Patterson, president of the SMUD Board. Susan was the one brave vote against continuing the lawsuit last fall, but the board needs to hear from increasing numbers of people that the destruction of the Trinity River can no longer continue with the support of SMUD.
Byron Leydecker recently wrote a letter to Peter Keat, Vice President of the Board, providing a scathing review, supported by independent scientific analysis, of SMUD’s “proposal for restoration.” Leydecker documents how the SMUD alternative proposal is “an attempt to deny needed and legally mandated returns of water to the Trinity River” while encouraging widely-discredited - and unsuccessful “mechanical restoration.”
For example Leydecker said that SMUD’s removal of spring bench flows of 2,000 feet per second in extremely and wet water type years would “likely cause water temperatures to convert from optimal to marginal” and would reduce any ability to provide optimal outmigration conditions” for threatened coho salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead. The list of technical deficiences with SMUD’s proposal goes on and on...
However, Leydecker pointed out that “beyond technical deficiencies there is a moral issue. For the negligible cost - about $2 per year for an average residence - to your ratepayer constituents, is the loss of a critical important Northern California resource worth that to you?”
He continued, “Is it is worth being perceived as opposed to the restoration of the Trinity River? Is it worth being opposed to Congressional and five consecutive Administration mandates of support, including that of the current Bush administration? Is it worth being opposed to the best available science, conducted over an 18-year period? Is it worth being opposed to allowing the federal government to fulfill its long neglected and mandated resource trust obligation to Native Americans?”
SMUD’s fingerprints were all over the dead Trinity River salmon that perished in the lower Klamath last year. Let’s not let this man-made environmental tragedy take place again this year.
I urge everybody to send a letter to the SMUD Board asking them to withdraw from the litigation. As a SMUD ratepayer and angler, I am outraged that not only is the utility blocking river restoration, but it is a partner in this lawsuit with the “poster boy” of unsustainable agribusiness - the Westlands Water District. Westlands is using the Trinity water to irrigate selenium-laden land, 200,000 acres of which is now so worthless it wants to sell it to the federal government while keeping the water.
Here’s a sample letter:
Susan Patterson, President
SMUD Board of Directors
6201 S Street
Sacramento, CA 95817
As an angler supporting the recovery of California salmon and steelhead populations, I am concerned with the SMUD Board’s decision to block the Trinity River Restoration Plan. The small amount of energy this watershed provides does not warrant the negative impacts that diverting up to 90% of the basin’s water has had on steelhead and salmon fisheries, the local tribes, local communities and recreational opportunities.
Although SMUD touts itself as an environmentally friendly utility, it is promoting environmental degradation on the Trinity River. Please drop this lawsuit now!
You can also call the SMUD Board of Directors at (916) 732-6155 or access them on their website: www.smud.org. Even easier, you can send out an email letter to the SMUD Board on the Fish Sniffer website, www.fishsniffer.com. For more information, call Friends of the Trinity River, (415) 383-4810, www.fotr.org, or Friends of the River, (916) 442-3155, www.friendsoftheriver.org.
Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org