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Trinity River under threat — will our county fight back?

By Regina Chichizola November 23, 2019

When it comes to federal water policy, there is no question we have a fox in charge of the hen house.

David Bernhardt, our current Secretary of Interior, has been bought and paid for by his former client, the Westlands Water District. Trump and Bernhardt have promised Central Valley farmers that water will no longer be wasted by flowing into the ocean. This promise is playing out in the new Trump Water Plan, the proposed permanent water contract for Westlands, and a proposal for a new reservoir in the North State, Sites Reservoir, that will impact the Trinity River.

Lots of stories circulate in the media about the unethical actions of Bernhardt and Gov. Newsom’s reluctance to fight Trump on water — stories about Bernhardt’s effort to get rid of scientists who concluded the new Trump Water Plan jeopardizes endangered species in the Delta. Then there’s his work to give Westlands a permanent water contract to irrigate poisoned selenium-ridden lands and to sell it to cities at a huge profit, and to acquire federal facilities.

What’s not being covered: the impact these projects will have on the Trinity and Klamath Rivers, and Newsom’s reluctance to stop them.

The Trump Water Plan Draft EIS discloses its future impacts to the Trinity, which is diverted in the Sacramento River to feed California’s federal water project. Despite this the Biological Opinion on the Trump administration’s new operations for the projects doesn’t address or mitigate Trinity River impacts from the new operations. A leaked original Biological Opinion actually asked for more water to be released to Clear Creek, the watershed the Trinity is diverted into, as a mitigation for proposed low flows in the Sacramento River.

The Trinity River, the Klamath’s largest tributary, was specifically dammed to supply water to Westlands; the average annual diversion of the Trinity to the Delta is roughly the same as Westlands’ average Central Valley Project water deliveries. Despite a historic 2000 flow restoration decision for the Trinity, there’s no enforceable minimum cold water pool requirement for Trinity Lake, even though there is one for Shasta Lake. Eventually, Trinity Lake will be dry during extended drought.

A new proposal will further impact the Trinity River — the Sites Reservoir, but Humboldt County wrote a letter supporting it. Luckily they’ll revisit this resolution on Dec. 10.

On January 2018, even though the Sites Reservoir would have no local benefits and will impact local fishing, the Humboldt Board of Supervisors, led by Rex Bohn, sided with the Sites Project Authority Manager over local people and fishermen after the Sites Authority promised the massive new reservoir wouldn’t impact the Trinity River. Local tribes and fishermen didn’t know this meeting was happening until the letter was approved.

Two years later, no such assurances have been provided, and a subsequent hydrological report found the DEIS/EIR modeling shows negative impacts to Trinity River temperatures, and that there was no accounting for Humboldt County’s 50,000 AF contract or the Lower Klamath Record of Decision that provides cold Trinity River water during droughts to avoid Klamath River fish kills.

Fishing in the Klamath and ocean is also worse than ever.

The Sites Project Authority has said the temperature impacts were a modeling error and no Trinity River water would be used to fill Sites, but has provided no guarantees, and has refused requests to recirculate the Draft EIS/EIR.

Even without these threats, the Sites Reservoir, Trump water plan and Westlands contract threatens the Trinity River because the Trinity is regularly diverted into the Sacramento River for power, water supply and other purposes. The Sites project could increase these diversions and further deplete Trinity Lake. The Sites Reservoir Draft EIS/EIR also provides for very low storage in Trinity Lake. This means that in drought years when Trinity River water is needed to advert Klamath River fish kill, the water might not be there or it will be too warm to help.

This is why the Humboldt County Supervisors will vote on sending two letters to the Sites authority withdrawing support for Sites if the Trinity River’s water is not protected and requesting a recirculated DEIS/EIR at its Dec. 10 meeting.

The letters should include language that would ensure Humboldt County’s water and fishing interests in the Klamath and Trinity rivers are protected if Sites Reservoir is approved.

Please join us on Dec. 10 to ask the board to choose Humboldt County residents over Central Valley irrigators. Ask them to fight for the Trinity River and North Coast salmon.

Regina Chichizola is the co-director for Save California Salmon, a policy analyst for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and a long-term resident of the Klamath River.

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