The [California] Wildlife Conservation Board [on Thursday] approved a grant award of $574,980 to Humboldt County to develop a water management plan for Humboldt County’s 1959 contract for water releases from Trinity Reservoir. Completion of the water management plan is necessary to make Humboldt County’s contract water available to support fishery resources and other beneficial uses in the Trinity River and lower Klamath River.
“Commercial, recreational, and tribal fisheries are a vital part of Humboldt County’s economy and cultural identity,” said Steve Madrone, Humboldt County Fifth District Supervisor. “Humboldt County is committed to protecting and restoring our natural and cultural resources. For far too long, Humboldt County’s contract right for releases of additional water into the Trinity River has been denied. This grant from the Water Conservation Board is a major breakthrough toward performing the required studies and addressing unresolved legal questions that will enable putting more water into the Trinity River at optimal times for the benefit of Humboldt County residents.”
In 1955, Congress adopted legislation authorizing creation of Trinity Reservoir and diversion of Trinity River water to the Sacramento River basin as part of the Central Valley Project. Leading up to the passage of this resolution, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors opposed the diversion of the Trinity River unless provisions were made to address Humboldt County’s water needs. Humboldt County’s interests were incorporated into the legislation, which stipulates that “not less than 50,000 acre-feet shall be released annually from the Trinity Reservoir and made available to Humboldt County and downstream water users.” This statutory entitlement for water releases was implemented through a water contract executed in 1959 between the Bureau of Reclamation and Humboldt County. However, the Bureau of Reclamation has never released water to fulfill the contract.
After decades of debate and delay, and critical advocacy from the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Yurok Tribe, the Department of the Interior’s Solicitor issued a memorandum in 2014 affirming the Bureau of Reclamation’s obligation to release water for Humboldt County’s beneficial use as provided for in the 1955 legislation and the 1959 water contract. Humboldt County has been working with the involved parties since the 2014 Solicitor’s memorandum to address outstanding legal and administrative barriers to releasing the contract water.
The Trinity River flows through Humboldt County for approximately 31 river miles before discharging into the Klamath River at Weitchpec. The Trinity River is an essential part of the cultural heritage and natural resource wealth of the North Coast. The Trinity River provides drinking water supply, habitat for fisheries, recreation opportunities, and an abundance of ecosystem services for Humboldt County residents. Water diversions from the Trinity River Division have contributed to habitat degradation, declining fish populations, economic losses, diminishment of recreational opportunities, water quality impairments, and impacts to tribal cultural practices within Humboldt County. Current water flows in the Trinity River vary significantly from the natural flow regime that existed prior to construction of Trinity Dam and Lewiston Dam.
The grant to Humboldt County was issued through the Wildlife Conservation Board’s Stream Flow Enhancement Program with funding from the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 (Proposition 1) which was approved by California voters in November, 2014. Humboldt County will collaborate with tribes and state and federal agencies to perform technical studies and address unresolved questions regarding water rights and regulatory compliance. The studies will identify needs and priorities for releasing additional water from Trinity Reservoir into the Trinity River to help restore natural processes and improve fisheries and water quality. They will also address existing conditions and a range of climate change scenarios over the 25-year planning period. The water management plan will provide a structure and process for annual decision-making to optimize the beneficial use of Humboldt County’s contract water and provide tangible benefits for fisheries. The anticipated completion date of the water management plan is December 31, 2022.
The water management plan will support modification of the Bureau of Reclamation’s water rights and development of any environmental compliance reports that are determined to be required. Once these regulatory steps are completed, Humboldt County will be able to work with its tribal partners and other stakeholders to make calls for annual releases of contract water into the Trinity River based on adaptive management principles and the specific objectives for a given water year.