Here’s SMUD in your eye

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is quietly considering whether to join a lawsuit to block a federal plan that would restore salmon runs on the Trinity River.

The plan, approved by Department of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt just two weeks ago, would restore the Trinity to half of its historic flows and, it is hoped, would bring new life to the tribal salmon fisheries of Northern California’s Hoopa and Yurok Indians.

But the plan is vehemently opposed by southern neighbors who rely on Trinity flows for irrigation and hydroelectric power.

The decision was immediately met with a lawsuit by the Westlands Water District, which claims that ending the current diversion of the Trinity River water into the Sacramento River would leave Central Valley farmers high and dry.

Now SMUD, the largest single beneficiary of electric power generated by the Trinity, has decided to join the suit, because the plan will cost the utility about $7 million to replace power produced by the Trinity River dam.

The power generated by the Trinity is less than one percent of the total generated in the state. But in the current climate of panic over mounting electricity rates, every kilowatt seems more precious than ever. The Trinity produces enough electricity to power 31,000 homes a year. Perhaps one quarter of that is purchased by SMUD, but it also supplies other local customers, such as the city of Roseville, Folsom Prison and McClellan Air Force Base.

The Fed’s plan would increase flows on the Trinity by about 250,000 acre-feet per year. SMUD has offered its own alternative, which would increase flows by about 100,000 acre-feet, an amount the utility maintains would allow fish runs to rebound, while maintaining adequate electricity supplies to its ratepayers.

But the Indian tribes and environmental groups balked at SMUD’s proposal, saying it would do nothing to restore habitat and was in any case trumped by historic Indian fishing rights. Secretary Babbitt agreed, approving the greater flows on Dec. 19, prompting the suit by Westlands, and now SMUD.

The public may call (916) 732-5691 for more information.