SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The California American Water Company’s unauthorized diversion of water from the Carmel River is contributing to the decline of the endangered steelhead salmon, environmentalists argue in Federal Court.
The Sierra Club and Carmel River Steelhead Association claim that despite their rescue efforts, they cannot “prevent the death of an unknown but presumably large number of juvenile steelhead that perish as flows decline to a level at which rescues occur, or that avoid capture.”
California American can only divert 3,376 acre-feet from the river, but has been diverting up to 10,000 acre-feet annually, according to the lawsuit.
“There are, of course, other causes to the declining steelhead population,” said lead attorney Laurens Silver with the California Environmental Law Project of Mill Valley. “But we believe, and everyone concedes, that the reason behind the major decline has been the diversions.”
Silver said that this year, adult steelhead returns were only 95, down from 500 in past years. “The National Fishery Service has made a determination that the steelhead has a high likelihood of becoming extinct, and our expert agrees,” he said.
The environmental groups seek an order forcing California American to reduce its Carmel River diversions to the level necessary to preserve the steelhead.
“To ask that they cease diverting altogether would be unrealistic, so we’re asking for a 25 percent reduction,” Silver said.