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Large New Reservoirs Threaten Trinity River Water Gains

By Regina Chichizola

Published December 15, 2017 in the Times-Standard

A new $4.7 billion proposal from the Sites Project Authority to build up to 11 new dams and two reservoirs in the Sacramento Valley presents a threat to the salmon on the Trinity and Klamath Rivers, and years of decisions to provide them water.

The new proposed Sites and Holthouse Reservoirs in Northern California could store up to 1.8 million acre feet of water, making them almost half the size of Shasta Reservoir and twice the size of Folsom Reservoir. They would be owned by the Sites Project Authority, which is made up mainly of state and federal water contractors and irrigation districts, and could be partially funded with Proposition 1 money. The authority is applying for up to 3 million acre feet of new water rights from the Sacramento and already offering new water rights in watersheds where five times more water is allocated than exists to powerful water districts, such as the Metropolitan Water District (MWD). MWD recently stated they will only support Sites if it and the California Water Fix (formally the Twin Tunnels) are a package deal.

This proposal includes inundating four creeks and building a new 2000 cubic feet per second (cfs) diversion on the Sacramento River, a 109 megawatt powerhouse, and two new diversion pumps in Red Bluff. Important decisions over funding, and federal and state approval will be playing out over the next few years.

How does this impact the Klamath watershed? Currently about half of the Trinity River, the Klamath’s largest tributary, is pumped into the Sacramento River via a series of reservoirs and tunnels to supply Central Valley water contractors. About 80 percent of the Trinity’s flow at Lewiston was diverted until the early 2000s when the Trinity River Record of Decisions (ROD) was signed. Several decisions to provide Trinity water for Klamath salmon have been made since, including a decision to honor Humboldt County’s 1959 water contract for 50,000 acre feet a year of Trinity water. This water has been used to avert Klamath fish kills during drought years.

The current Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Sites does not mention this history, but it proposes to lower flows and increase water temperatures during some water years and months.

For instance the DEIS predicts the project will provide; “similar long-term average monthly flows during the evaluation period, and equivalent or slightly higher average monthly flows during most water year types, except during above normal and below normal water years, when flows would be reduced by 31.2 and 33.6 percent during March and February, respectively”.

Perhaps more troubling is the fact that much of the Trinity River information used for modeling in EIS is from before the year 2000, and the No Action (no new dams) alternative assumes increased water diversions and deliveries. This leaves many questions to how Sites could impact the Trinity ROD, which is federal law, and how climate conditions and carry over storage are accounted for.

The fact is there is not extra water to divert in the Sacramento or Trinity Rivers. High flows have many benefits. High flows inundate floodplains, help out migrating salmon, scour out sediments and algae, move spawning gravel, and reduce fish diseases, all of which greatly increase salmon numbers. Multiple years of low flows often lead to salmon crises like we see now on the Klamath.

The Sites Authority is spending a lot of money on a media campaign designed to convince the public that new dams will help salmon by storing water for releases into the Bay Delta. This is an effort to justify taxpayers footing portions of the expense. However, the over allocation of water rights, and new water rights, creates a situation where water right holders and contractors can make claim to any new water.

If the Twin Tunnels and Sites Reservoir are built, Sites water will be used to fill the tunnels. Whether these projects are approved, and how much Trinity water goes to them, may depend on how hard we fight.

A petition to stop Sites is at

Comments are due Jan. 15 and can be mailed to

More information is at or Save the Klamath Trinity River on Facebook. Email for more information.

Regina Chichizola is an Orleans-based activist.

The Sites project would be situated on the west side of the Sacramento Valley, approximately 10 miles west of the rural town of Maxwell, in Colusa County and create more storage of Sacramento, Trinity and Shasta River water.

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