River plan for winter pulses put off
By AMY GITTELSOHN The Trinity Journal
The Trinity Management Council decided last week that a proposal by Trinity River Restoration Program staff for higher winter “pulse” flow releases to the Trinity River is not ready for implementation yet.
With that — barring any safety of dams releases that could be needed — release from Lewiston Dam to the Trinity River are to be kept at a steady 300 cubic feet per second until the annual spring high flow begins.
However, at their meeting in Weaverville Dec. 6, TMC members voiced support for moving toward more natural flows, which would be at their highest rather than at their lowest in the winter if it weren’t for the dams. The proposal for this coming winter was seen as a bridge to a more natural flow regime.
Program staff have said studies elsewhere show an increase in bugs that juvenile salmon and steelhead eat entering the water when flows are increased. It provides more food to the fry at a critical time and supports more fish in the same-size area, said fisheries biologist Kyle De Juilio.
De Juilio said food availability has not yet been studied on the Trinity River, and the plan was to gather information prior to the flow ramp up for a baseline and to monitor during the higher flows.
The proposal to implement several pulse flows of up to 1,800 cfs in late winter and early spring drew protests from fishing guides and business owners. The flows would make the river unfishable at times.
“We have trips on the books. Some of them were booked a year in advance,” said Bryan Quick from The Fly Shop. “It makes it really tough to interface with our clients on the phone … to get them to come back out.”
There were other issues as well.
The Solicitor General has requested more information before providing environmental approval, said TMC Chair Don Bader, area manager for the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s Northern California office.
Also, a technical white paper by program staff for the proposal is still in draft form.
From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, TMC member Nicholas Hetrick said members are “super supportive” of the idea of more natural river flows, but noted the white paper has undergone five or six scientific reviews, and “it’s still not ready for prime time.”
“We need our ducks in a row,” he said.
Others felt that shifting the 20,000 acre-feet of water needed for the pulses from other parts of the flow schedule as planned could be a mistake.
“We support the science,” said Mike Orcutt, TMC member from the Hoopa Valley Tribe.
But he suggested that possibly some of the 50,000 acre-feet of water allocated to Humboldt County could be used. Other possibilities are having the additional water released under the same authority that allows the release to protect salmon in the lower Klamath River, or possibly using the safety of dams releases to the same effect, he said.
From the audience, Tom Stokely who represents the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said there is evidence the winter pulse flows could improve the fishery.
But he added that the hydrograph for the Trinity River Record of Decision was developed over many years, and said the message from shifting the water could be that “the water isn’t needed. If I was a CVP customer I’d start asking.”
It would be better to seek another source such as the water to Humboldt, he said.
Also in the audience, John Letton from Indian Creek Lodge remained skeptical.
With the limited amount of water, “what incremental increase in food supply will that cause?” he asked.
He emphasized that it’s not just the fishing guides who will lose business. For example, he said Indian Creek Lodge has 13 employees working at the lodge and restaurant and their hours will be affected.
“There’s an economic impact there on 13 different families,” Letton said. “It’s a real price to be paid.”
“The number one tourist for Trinity County is the steelhead fisherman,” said Kelli Gant, vice president of the Trinity County Chamber of Commerce.
Some winters the river is too high to fish, she said, but when it’s manmade the analysis should include economics and people.
From The Fly Shop, Quick estimated that with the numbers of days the river would be too high to fish under the proposal, the local economy could lose $152,000 including payments to guides, lodging, meals, fuel, shuttles and entertainment.
“I’d love to see a robust fishery for so many reasons,” Quick said, but he added that the logic of the 1,800 cfs release is unclear.
“I definitely hear the economic impacts,” said TMC member Dave Hillemeier of the Yurok Tribe. He noted that the Trinity fish populations “have not been doing all that fantastic the last couple years or so,” and the tribe went two years with basically no fishing.
The proposal seemed to be a way to gain the science needed to move to a more natural hydrograph, he said.
Safety of dams releases can also affect fishing, but TMC member and Trinity County Sup. Keith Groves said that’s different.
“That’s the point, it’s not a choice,” he said. “This is. We’re just throwing something out and we are economically impacting people.”
Groves, too, said he likes the concept of more natural flows, but he doesn’t know that the science is adequate to back up rushing into it this winter.
Hillemeier, from the Yurok Tribe, said if this is a substantial interference for the guides than maybe it should be put off a year. Noting that some have said they need a year’s notice at least, he asked if this coming March would provide enough time.
That, Quick responded, “would be awesome.”
Ultimately, the TMC voted for the restoration program staff to develop guidelines for the use of potential safety of dams releases, with that information to be shared with Central Valley operations.
It was noted that a safety of dams release is not a given. In fact, Bader noted, “the way the weather’s trending it looks like it’s not going to be the motherlode of all winters.”
The TMC also voted to take action at their March meeting on the managed winter-spring flows for 2019.
River plan for winter pulses put off