California's water bank is running dry and the Trinity River can't afford to issue any more loans.
California water contracts exceed the amount of water available by more than eight times. Our state's crisis pits stakeholders against each other and leaves water regulators baffled over how to solve the problems their agencies created decades ago.
But the real burden doesn't fall in the laps of Sacramento or Washington D.C. bureaucrats. It churns in the algae ridden pools of shallow rivers. It multiplies with columnaris bacteria in the gills of salmon, as witnessed by our people during the 2002 fish kill.. It aches in the hearts of the people who have lived in these communities since time immemorial.
Everybody on the North Coast needs to know that the future of the Trinity River is being written today. Big plans for California water are in the works. The Bay Delta Plan and the Klamath River deals both affect the Trinity River.
We refuse to be left high and dry so Central Valley agriculture interests to the south and power companies to the north can continue to siphon more water away from the North Coast..
For decades, the government diverted up to 90 percent of the Trinity River to quench the mounting thirst of Central Valley agriculture. Mandated protections for the Trinity River were largely ignored, depleting the Klamath-Trinity fishery.
Within 10 years after the Trinity River Division began operation, 80 percent of the Trinity River's fishery resources were destroyed. We have been at the forefront working to restore them ever since.
Commercial fishermen, tribal fishermen and recreational fishermen rely on the Trinity River's production of salmon, but the Trinity River watershed will continue to ail until the 2000 Record of Decision (ROD) is fully implemented.
The ROD is a document that provides assurances for adequate flows and the restoration of the Trinity River. It was signed in 2000 by then Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. Water interests in the Central Valley challenged the ROD, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it in 2004, saying that Trinity River restoration is “unlawfully long overdue.” Reclamation then released prescribed flows down the river, but never fully funded restoration efforts.
While the Trinity now gets the flows called for in the ROD, the North Coast is still entitled to an additional 50,000 acre feet guaranteed by Congress back in 1955, water the county fought tooth and nail for when the Trinity River Division Act was passed.
Bureau of Reclamation officials say Humboldt County's water contract is subsumed in the ROD flows. But, the 1955 congressional act authorizing the Trinity River Division mandates separate flows for fish, wildlife and the future growth of Humboldt County and other downstream water users.
Humboldt County and the tribes deserve the water that is guaranteed to the North Coast.
The Trinity River produces more than 50 percent of the fall Chinook salmon stocks and the lion's share of steelhead stocks that make up the Klamath River's once world famous fishery. The two rivers cannot be treated separately.
Three weeks ago, we joined Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement negotiations. The KHA talks coincide with Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) talks. Together, the two deals, if passed by legislators, could pave the way for the removal of four dams on the Klamath River.
We support dam removal. But, we will continue to dispute the KBRA until adequate provisions are included to protect the Trinity River and its fish runs. Moreover, no dam removal agreement can come at the price of a waiver of our fishing rights. We also demand that sufficient interim measures be taken to protect the fishery until the dams come down. As it stands now, the deal guarantees water for irrigators, but fails to guarantee water for fish.
Even if the Klamath River dams come down, pressure on the North Coast's valuable water will continue.
As 'guardians' of the Trinity River, our efforts benefit the entire basin. Humboldt and Trinity Counties benefit, as well as ocean, recreational and commercial fisheries, not to mention the small businesses -- from rafting companies to restaurants -- that span the Trinity and Klamath Rivers from Weaverville to Klamath.
The communities of the North Coast need to work together to protect these rivers. This issue should not be simmered down to a tribal problem. Algae and fish diseases do not discriminate. We are in this together.
We remain optimistic, but the clock is ticking. We support healthy fish as well as healthy local economies and government accountability.