California's Trinity River Getting Fish-Friendly Makeover
By Cat Lazaroff
HOOPA, California, December 19, 2000 (ENS) - After 20 years of planning, the U.S. Interior Department today released its final blueprint for restoring fish populations in the mainstem of the Trinity River. Since the river was dammed in 1962, up to 90 percent of its flow has been diverted into the Sacramento River to serve cities and agriculture.
The new plan will cut the exports to 52 percent and make other changes to help struggling fish populations and the nearby Native American tribes that depend on them.
"This decision is 20 years in the making," said Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. "It reflects our commitment and obligation to protect both fish and wildlife species, and to fulfill our trust responsibilities to the tribes living in the region who have fished on the Trinity River for thousands of years. This decision also allows for 52 percent of the water from the Trinity to be exported to the Central Valley for water use and power generation."
In 1955, Congress authorized the construction and operation of a dam and other facilities on the Trinity River in northern California as part of the Central Valley Project, which provides water and electricity to much of central California's heavily agricultural regions. The dam blocked access to 109 miles of salmon and steelhead spawning and rearing habitat.
The interests, and in particular, the reserved fishing interest, of the Hoopa Valley Tribe whose reservation borders the Trinity River, and the Yurok Tribe whose reservation borders the Klamath river downstream from its confluence with the Trinity, have also been affected.
Development of a river restoration proposal for naturally reproducing fish was mandated by, among other things, a 1981 Secretarial Decision and federal law, the 1984 Trinity River Restoration Act and 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act.
The proposal includes:
"The decision by Interior Secretary Babbitt to sign the Record of Decision for returning flows to the Trinity River is of monumental importance to the Hoopa People in the sustenance of our resources and culture," said the Hoopa Valley tribal council chair, Duane Sherman Sr.. "Many people from both sides of the aisle and many different agencies can now stand without hesitation to accept the responsibility that goes along with this decision and the gratitude of the Hoopa People."
The change in capacity attributable to the Preferred Alternative, made final today, is less than four-tenths of one percent.
In terms of water use, the FEIS found that implementation of the Preferred Alternative could result in decreases in Central Valley Project deliveries and Delta exports by two percent in average years and four percent in dry years. However, the Trinity River Preferred Alternative was taken into consideration in the CALFED process, an $8 billion joint federal-state project to restore the San Francisco Bay Delta and end water wars between cities, farms and environmental needs.
The Interior Department said today that the CALFED project will allow these farmers to continue to receive 65 percent of their total water contracts, despite the new cuts in the Trinity restoration project.
Trinity River water goes principally to the Westlands Water District, which signed its first contract for water delivery with the Bureau of Reclamation in 1963. Last Thursday, the Westlands Water District sought a court injunction to block the expected decision from the Interior Department, but a federal judge denied the request on Friday.
Copies of the final report can be found on the Internet at http://www.ccfwo.r1.fws.gov