Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 6:15 am
From Tom Stokely
It is with great sadness that I have watched the Trinity River Restoration Program go from being a good neighbor to a bad one.
The TRRP spent approximately $1.8 million to replace and repair domestic water systems affected by higher flows, bridge replacements and restoration actions. But for unknown reasons, the TRRP refuses to replace a ruined agricultural water system used by longtime Lewiston residents Dave and Peggy Wellock.
According to a report by the TRRP, gravel injections at the Lowden Ranch site in 2010 immediately upstream of the Wellock Pool resulted in an 81 percent decrease in the median depth of the pool. There is no question that the inability of the Wellocks to maintain their water diversion in an efficient, reliable and environmentally sound manner is a direct result of the Trinity River Restoration Program’s upstream gravel injections.
The Wellocks filed a tort claim with the Bureau of Reclamation that was denied. The Trinity Adaptive Management Working Group, the federal advisory committee for the TRRP, recommended that the program consider acceptance of their claim “to help assure good relations with river landowners and residents.” This advisory went unheeded by the TRRP.
I am astounded that a major federal program with a $13 million to $15 million budget would be so parsimonious as to deny the Wellocks the funding needed to mitigate the impacts caused by the program’s projects! When I worked for Trinity County and helped raise millions of dollars for bridge replacements and other TRRP projects, there would have been no question about fixing the problems that the program created for river landowners. Now, many of the TRRP’s leaders, particularly the executive director, are openly hostile to public concerns about the project’s effects and lack of benefits.
Even worse, the costly and disruptive channel rehabilitation projects of this “Grand Experiment” do not appear to be creating the habitat necessary for improving fish production. Instead of investigating, tributaries and watersheds as a more productive means of meeting restoration goals, some program participants think that simply dumping huge amounts of spawning gravel in the river will make up for the TRRP’s shortcomings. They are wrong.
Spawning habitat has never been demonstrated as a limiting factor for the restoration of the Trinity River’s salmon and steelhead. The increased flows have been beneficial, but it’s clear that doing more work in the tributaries and watersheds of the river would help fish populations. However, despite years of recommendations from the federal advisory committee to pursue such a course, the TRRP is providing scant funding for such projects.
It’s wonderful that the TRRP is spending millions of dollars in Trinity County, and we’re all impressed with the program’s nice office next to Tops Super Foods; but there should be more to show for all the money spent. That includes being a good neighbor.
Tom Stokely is a water policy analyst for the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN, online at www.c-win.org
). He is a former Trinity County Natural Resources Planner who spent most of his 23 years in the Planning Department working to restore the Trinity River’s fisheries.