[env-trinity] Trinity Journal- Harm to Trinity seen in renewed water contracts

Tom Stokely tstokely at trinityalps.net
Wed Feb 16 19:34:58 PST 2005


Harm to Trinity seen in renewed water contracts


The Trinity County Board of Supervisors is hoping to make noise about potential negative impacts on Trinity Lake recreation as well as long-term temperatures and flows for Trinity River fisheries from proposed long-term renewals of water contracts in the Central Valley. 

The board has sent a series of letters to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation regarding the agency's proposed 25- and 50-year renewals of water contracts with hundreds of agricultural, municipal and industrial permit holders south of the San Francisco Bay Delta. 

The federal government is renewing multiple water contracts for 25 years and in many cases guaranteeing an automatic 25-year extension beyond that based on environmental analyses that Trinity County, among others, has found serious fault with. 

The board of supervisors has asked the Bureau of Reclamation to undertake a much more extensive environmental analysis for the proposed renewals through the preparation of a full environmental impact statement rather than the more limited environmental assessments that have so far been offered for public review. The environmental assessments have been accompanied by findings that the contract renewals will result in no significant impacts. 

"I believe these contracts will have substantial impacts on the Trinity River, Trinity Lake recreation and our economy, sending more water south of the delta. There are issues not being disclosed. They have never disclosed where the additional water is to come from," said the senior planner for Trinity County's Natural Resources Division, Tom Stokely. 

The proposed contract renewals involve recipients in the Delta - Mendota Canal Unit of the Central Valley Project, Westlands Water District, Pajaro Valley, Santa Clara Valley and the San Luis Unit. Although the total volume of water promised in the contracts is not increased from current amounts, the renewed contracts promise up to 100-percent delivery by the end of the contract periods. Most of the contractors now do not use all of what they are allocated. The Westlands Water District's annual use averages about 55 percent of the total amount of water it is contracted for. 

Where there is currently up to 6 million acre feet of water delivered per year to CVP contractors, the renewed contracts propose to deliver up to 1 million more acre-feet in a year. An acre-foot is generally considered enough to serve a family of four for a year. 

The proposed increase in deliveries is based on long-term proposals that include raising Shasta Dam and increasing water storage capacity at other reservoirs, along with improving the state's pumping facilities to increase capacity. "None of the actions have been taken and would require many years to accomplish, so the question is, where is the water coming from?" Stokely said, adding he believes it will come from draining Trinity and Shasta Lakes at the expense of recreational users, and cold-water temperatures needed for summer releases to the Sacramento, Trinity and Klamath river fisheries. 

He said he also believes there will be serious impacts to the Trinity Public Utilities District because if power plants are bypassed due to low reservoirs, the costs to purchase the power back will rise. 

The Trinity River flows decision, signed in 2000 during the Clinton administration, calls for an average yearly increase in river flows of 255,000 acre feet to aid in the restoration of the river's salmon and steelhead populations. Increased dam releases to the river are supposed to be offset by a 4-percent reduction in exports from Trinity to the CVP of 240,000 acre feet for a net decrease of 15,000 acre feet per year in Trinity Lake storage. The lake holds almost 2.5 million acre feet of water when full. The minimum level considered necessary to provide enough cold water to release for fish survival in the summer is 600,000 acre-feet at Trinity Lake. However, Stokely said the minimum pool is not enforceable and that even the flows decision acknowledged there will be drought years when there won't be enough water to meet the increased river flows called for in the plan as well as all contracted obligations. 

"My worst fear is they will exhaust the reservoirs going into the next drought cycle and there will not be enough cold water to keep the Trinity River cold, let alone the Sacramento and the Klamath," he said. 

"The problem with the Bureau's environmental documents is they don't disclose that. They provide no meaningful analysis. There is no disclosure on Trinity River basin impacts and I think it will be catastrophic," Stokely said. He added there are hundreds of contracts involved, splitting deliveries into numerous units, but there is no cumulative analysis of the impacts. The board of supervisors has submitted extensive comments challenging the documents and calling on the Bureau to develop a range of alternatives other than automatic renewals for consideration. Among them would be a plan for retiring a few hundred thousand acres of waterlogged, drainage-impacted lands high in selenium and other toxic contaminants to achieve water savings for environmental uses. 

The board's comments state, "It is likely that a thorough analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives will demonstrate that continued irrigation of lands subject to drainage problems is not in the best interests of California and its limited water resources." 

The board has also called for analysis of the direct and cumulative impacts to Trinity Lake from reduced carryover storage and associated impacts to recreation as well as impacts on Trinity power costs, tribal trust obligations to the Hoopa and Yurok Indians, and assurances that there are to be no adverse temperature impacts to the Trinity River's fishery from diversion of its water to the Sacramento River. 

The board voted 3-0 to send comments on the proposed long-term contract renewals, with Bill Chambers abstaining because he is employed by the Bureau of Reclamation.
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