Justice wants halt to coho salmon action
Department says boost in flows would cost farmers, wildlife

By Deborah Schoch
Los Angeles Times
April 30, 2002
The Bush administration moved vigorously Monday to block a court action by fishermen and environmentalists to protect young coho salmon, contending that increased flows in the Klamath River will come at the expense of upstream farmers and wildlife.

Justice Department lawyers argue in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., that there is insufficient proof that the coho would benefit if more water is sent down the river during April and May to California's North Coast.

"If the flows plaintiffs demand were to be implemented now, the consequences would be severe to upstream resources," the papers state.

The government is responding to a lawsuit filed last week by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and six environmental groups. The suit seeks to provide more water to the young salmon during the spring, when tiny "fry" seek refuge along riverbanks and year-old coho salmon move downstream to the sea.

It also takes the unusual step of asking a judge to move immediately to increase flows to the fish, even if that means cutting water deliveries to farmers.

The environmentalists' request for a court order has heightened year-old tensions over who deserves water in the Klamath River Basin, an issue that last summer sparked a virulent water war in the West.

This summer promised to be more peaceful, with the basin receiving substantially more water from rain and snowfall than it did during last year's drought.

But the area remains one of the nation's key battlegrounds in a fight over the Endangered Species Act, with many farmers lambasting the law for putting the welfare of fish before that of people.

An expert in environmental law said Monday that the type of order requested by fishermen and environmentalists is typically hard to obtain.

"Plaintiffs have a heavy burden of proof," said Michael Bean, an attorney specializing in endangered species issues at the nonprofit Environmental Defense.

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