Ruling to Cut Central Valley Water

Trinity River court ruling to cut supplies to Central Valley farmers. Compiled by staff

Published on: Jul 26, 2004

A federal appeals court has approved a congressional plan to increase flows into the Trinity River to restore fish habitat, reducing water to California farmers and hydroelectric plants.

Most of the water in the Trinity, which originates in northern California's Trinity Alps and flows west into the Klamath River, has been diverted for decades to serve a California’s Central Valley, making the Klamath basis situation worse some charge.

In 1984, Congress mandated the 112-mile-long river's restoration to combat dwindling supplies of salmon, steelhead and other aquatic life. In 2000, after years of study, the Interior Department approved a plan to increase Trinity water. Indian tribes who use the waters for sustenance fishing backed the plan, while farming and hydroelectric power interests opposed it.

The Trinity is a major artery in a system of dams, tunnels, canals and reservoirs that supply 30 million people in the agricultural rich Central Valley. The plan approved diverts as much as 9% of the system's capacity.

The utilities argued that the Interior Department's plan would decrease water that eventually reaches the parched Central Valley, and the government did not study what effect that would have on the millions of water users downstream. A spokesman for 600 California agricultural customers says farmers would likely get less water under the plan.

"That's water that is all part of a flow regime that is an important part of this large, complex interconnected water system,'' says Tupper Hull of the Westlands Water District that challenged the plan.

A spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Jeff McCracken, says the government did not study what effect the plan would have on farming because the law did not require it. He acknowledged, though, a "significant'' amount of water would be taken out of the system.

"If there were an endless supply, this wouldn't have gone to court,'' McCracken says.

Westlands is considering asking the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling, Hull says.

The Yurok Tribe celebrated the decision. The state's poorest tribe, which fishes the river for a subsistence living, was hit hard in 2002 when thousands of salmon died because of low flows.