[env-trinity] Trinity PUD may possibly help county with resources position

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Dec 15 21:09:10 PST 2010

TPUD may possibly help county with resources position 


The Trinity Public Utilities District Board is suggesting a joint approach to Trinity County's efforts to get up to speed on natural resources issues.

The TPUD has a stake in some of the decisions the county may consider - particularly pertaining to positions on water. So when county supervisors heard a proposal for a part-time natural resources position to help the board keep abreast of natural resources issues, it drew the attention of TPUD officials.

County supervisors had found themselves out of the loop on certain forestry and water matters after what had been a fully staffed natural resources division was reduced to zero staff. In October, County Administrative Officer Dero Forslund proposed to supervisors that a half-time position be funded to do research and policy development on current natural resources issues.

Forslund was to come back with a more detailed plan and funding possibilities, but the idea is on a backburner at the moment due to the county grants department financial problems.

Still, the proposal was of high interest at Thursday's TPUD meeting.

Of immediate concern to the TPUD board is the county's position - as yet undetermined - on the release sought by Humboldt County of an additional 50,000 acre-feet of water to the Trinity River.

Release of the water from Trinity Lake was promised as part of the 1955 Trinity River Act. However, the federal Bureau of Reclamation has long contended that the 50,000 acre-feet is included within the amount already sent downstream for fisher- ies. With a new federal administration in place, the Hoopa and Yurok tribes have joined Humboldt in pressing the claim that the water to be released for "Humboldt County and downstream users," as the act states, is separate.

Reclamation is now re-evaluating that position and has no deadline for when the decision will be announced.

The TPUD is not supportive of this effort to release more water to the river. Water down the river does not generate as much hydroelectricity as water diverted via the Clear Creek Tunnel and sent south. While the water to the river does go through the Trinity Powerplant and the very small Lewiston plant, water diverted through the tunnel goes through not only the Trinity plant but also two plants with a higher capacity than Trinity's - Judge Francis Carr plant at the outlet of the tunnel and Spring Creek plant entering Keswick Reservoir.

All four plants are included in the Central Valley Project's Trinity River Division, and under the Trinity River Act, Trinity County residents are entitled to 25 percent of energy produced at the plants, at cost.

"The allocation will raise and lower depending on the generation that takes place," TPUD Director Dick Morris noted.

Currently, Trinity County residents use less than 30 percent of their allocation as customers of the TPUD - but TPUD officials want to preserve the availability of power for the county's future needs.

The energy allocation is the only economic gain to Trinity County from construction of the Trinity River Division, Morris said.

"I hate to see it undermined and diminished," he added.

A more immediate concern is that lower power production increases the cost of electricity to the federal Western Area Power Administration - a cost which is passed on to the TPUD.

Still other Western customers who don't get Trinity's "first preference" energy pricing could opt out of buying Trinity hydro power if it gets more expensive than market, Morris said, meaning less buyers to support the agency's costs.

"Those costs may end up being borne by the people of Trinity County," Morris noted.

The TPUD generally has thought of water issues as the prerogative the county and electricity that of the TPUD, Morris said.

But he noted that the district's two main goals are to have the lowest electricity rates in the state and preserve Trinity's energy allocation.

"To achieve our goals I think we have to get involved," he said.

Director Richard Stiliha agreed, saying there is a need to let the public know, "it's not just water down the river."

TPUD General Manager Rick Coleman said he believes the 50,000 acrefeet decision is "fait accompli" - "and it's going to probably go to court."

But he noted that the natural resources position is not just about water.

"It's also timber," Coleman said, adding that a co-generation plant is needed here to help reduce forest fuels.

The board wound up voting unanimously to send a letter to county supervisors offering help and participation on these issues because of potential impacts to TPUD customers. Further, a meeting of representatives from the TPUD and Board of Supervisors is proposed in the letter if the supervisors are open to discussions and exploring joint action agency options for the position.
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