By Sally Morris
September 16, 2015
Stokely Offers BOS Some Advice on
Safeguarding River Rights
The Trinity Journal
As the water level in Trinity Lake continues to drop toward a historic low and area residents pray for a drought-busting winter, longtime Trinity River advocate and former Trinity County Resource Planner Tom Stokely offered some free advice during a recent presentation to the Trinity County Board of Supervisors.
Retired from Trinity County in 2008 and currently employed as a consultant to the California Water Impact Network, Stokely provided some newer board members with a history of the Trinity River Division of the Central Valley Project, describing a long list of events that left Trinity County at times hopeful of protecting its water rights as a county of origin, but often deceived.
He said drought has brought a number of long-simmering issues to the boiling point, but also created a couple of opportunities for Trinity County to weigh in on future operations.
“The Trinity River is some of the most valuable water in California because it can serve both the Klamath and Trinity basins and is also the largest ‘tributary’ to Clear Creek, producing more electricity than Lake Shasta,” he said, arguing the Trinity River Division’s most significant benefit to the people of Trinity County was the availability of low-cost power.
“Though most of what was promised in the 1950s did not come true and the people here were hoodwinked by Westlands and its agents through lies and deliberate deception, the power was left wiggly and administratively dealt with later,” Stokely said.
In the early 1990s, he said Trinity County led the charge to get cold water temperature objectives adopted to keep fish from dying in the Trinity River as diversions to the Central Valley reduced the flow.
“It is very significant in terms of minimum cold water carryover storage at Trinity Lake. It is key to keeping the reservoir high. If you don’t have the water, you can’t meet the temperature objectives,” he said.
In 1989, the State Water Resources Control Board held a hearing on temperature control in the Sacramento River, promising there would also be a Trinity-specific water hearing to consider whether the Bureau of Reclamation’s permits should be modified to set conditions relating to temperatures in the Trinity River.
“We were hopeful,” Stokely said, adding “we made the case that the Trinity River has priority for Trinity River water. It is supposed to be surplus water that goes over the hill and the state water board essentially agreed with us.”
Then in 1990 he said, “They turned it into a water right order to protect the Sacramento River. It’s a huge lie that Trinity River water is needed to cool the Sacramento River. The water coming out of Shasta Dam is much colder than the Trinity water that really heats up going through the Lewiston and Whiskeytown reservoirs. They are using Trinity River water to meet contractual water obligations in the Sacramento River basin. I call it ‘paper water.’ They promised 26 years ago there would be a Trinity-specific water rights hearing and we have yet to see it.”
Stokely said the Trinity River remains “largely unprotected. We have the 2000 Record of Decision that increased flows down the river and we have the water contracts. It’s like a bank account with two people signing checks and nobody watching the account itself so the issue of carryover storage is very important.”
He described how much longer it takes for Trinity Lake to refill than Shasta or Folsom and with the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN) he has continued to pursue a long history of trying to secure a carryover storage mandate for Trinity.
Amounts studied to ensure cold water releases are available for Trinity River fish have ranged all the way from a minimum pool of just 400,000 acre-feet of water if the power plant is bypassed up to 750,000 or 900,000 “which isn’t a lot, but it’s more than we’ve got now, would be better for recreation and doesn’t require power plant bypasses,” Stokely said.
The reservoir’s capacity is 2,447,650 acre-feet and he said a Bureau of Reclamation study determined that 1.25 million acre-feet of storage is needed at the beginning of a seven-year drought to ensure that cold water temperature objectives could be met at the end. The reservoir level is currently nearing 600,000 acre-feet and continuing to drop. The lowest level on record was in November 1977 at 222,350 acre-feet.
Stokely’s recommendations for the Board of Supervisors include filing a protest with the State Water Resources Control Board on the California Water Fix water right change petition. The Department of Water Resources and Bureau of Reclamation have filed the petition to allow changing the point of diversion from south of the Delta to north of the Delta through the proposed twin tunnels project “so they have to amend all eight permits for the Trinity River. That’s a door that allows you to file a protest and gain standing,” Stokely said.
He said C-WIN intends to protest regarding amendment of the Sacramento River permits, but not so much Trinity.
“I would suggest you ask for minimum carryover storage; put temperature plans in the water rights; get a definition of ‘county of origin’ rights; and physical solutions to the Lewiston Reservoir heating problem,” Stokely said, adding the standard the state water board has to consider is whether a proposed amendment will adversely affect any legal use of water, fish or wildlife.
“And you have a very good case to make that it will if the reservoir gets too low. In 1977 it was a real disaster. There was significant mortality. If the lake reaches a dead pool, which is a real possibility if drought continues, all benefits would be rendered useless, resulting in severe economic and environmental harm,” he said, adding “you haven’t had the resources to weigh in, but the Trinity River gets lost in all of this.”
He also suggested the county seek support for scientific modeling to show the benefits and impacts of increasing carryover storage levels required in Trinity Lake and request funding to participate in drought legislation or hire staffing to look out for the county’s interests.
“Chances are you won’t get it, but it’s important to ask for it. You can argue you are a poor county of less than 14,000 people whose water and timber are gone, and you aren’t getting any money to defend it,” he said.