The Unfunded Trinity

An ambitious plan to restore the Trinity River is in jeopardy for want of a measly $6 million.

For more than four decades, most of the water in the Trinity has been shunted into the Sacramento River to irrigate Central Valley farms and to provide electricity for utilities including the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

The diversion has devastated the river’s salmon and steelhead runs and taken the livelihood of the Northern California’s Yurok and Hoopa Indian tribes.

All of this could change because of a plan by the U.S. Department of Interior to restore the Trinity to 48 percent of its historic flow— just enough, scientists say, to bring back the fisheries. (See “Saving Salmon,” SN&R, Sept. 28, and “Whose River is It?” June 21.)

But a funding request sent to the CALFED Bay Delta program to rebuild four bridges along the Trinity was rejected, placing the entire project in question.

The bridges have to be raised and rebuilt to make room for higher flows. The bridge project will cost $6 million, but the cost wasn’t included in the $100 million the Interior Department plans to spend on implementation.

That means it’s up to Trinity County to come up with another funding source. But the county, with a general fund of only about $12 million, has no hopes of ponying up the money itself.

“If we can’t get the bridges raised, it stymies the whole thing,” said Trinity County planner Tom Stokely.

The bridge issue is only the latest wrinkle in a two-decade-long struggle that at times has pitted rural Trinity County against its downstream neighbors.

The plan is opposed by SMUD, because the diversion provides about $2 million worth of electricity for Sacramento ratepayers.

But Stokely said SMUD and Sacramento residents should support the current plan as a reasonable compromise. Some tribal interests and environmental groups would much prefer to see the Trinity restored to 100 percent—rather than half—of its natural flow. That could happen if these groups choose to file a lawsuit to force the issue.