Kayakers on Trinity River

Kayakers relax for a moment on the Trinity River. Gov. Jerry Brown’s Peripheral Tunnel plan has local officials worried about the impact on Trinity waters.

Gov. Jerry Brown's announcement last week of a plan for twin tunnels to divert water away from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to farms and cities in the south raises concerns in Trinity County.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan unveiled by Brown and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar includes construction of two tunnels 33 feet in diameter or larger to transport water under the delta, an inland estuary.

The plan is estimated to cost about $24 billion, including $14 billion for construction of the tunnels to be paid for by water users and $10 billion for habitat restoration to come from taxpayers. A water bond to pay for some of the restoration is set for the November 2014 ballot.

A video of the July 25 news conference is available online.

Calling it "a big idea for a big state," Brown said knowledge has been gained since the voters rejected his plan for a peripheral canal around the delta 30 years ago.

It is needed to deal with earthquakes and climate change, he said.

Questioned about cost, Brown said there will be reviews, but "analysis paralysis" is not working and he intends to "get shit done."

"If we have to fight initiatives and referendums, we'll fight those, too," he said.

"Everybody knows this system we have here is broken," Salazar said.

Salazar noted that pumps now used to get water from the delta to consumers kill fish. The plan will also reduce uncertainty for farmers about water deliveries, he said.

However, in Trinity County concerns run high about the potential to send more water south.

Lots of the water going through those tunnels would be diverted Trinity River water — but the planning does not seem to consider the effect on Trinity County, said Roger Jaegel, chair of the Trinity County Board of Supervisors.

The full board will work on an official position on the plan, Jaegel said, but for himself, "I feel we need to continue to emphasize our county of origin rights."

"I didn't see Trinity County mentioned at all," Jaegel said. "I don't think anybody really has acknowledged that a lot of that is Trinity water."

"Trinity County certainly has provided water to the south for quite some time with little or no compensation," he added. "I'm not sure they even understand that we're here."

With the twin tunnels, he said, "It's going to mean the water transfers are going to become much easier."

From the Trinity Lake Revitalization Alliance, Kelli Gant of Trinity Center has been following versions of the delta plan for some time. In an earlier analysis, "not once do they talk about the impact above the dams," she said.

"The main thing we're concerned about is when they look at the delta plan, all they're focusing on is the delta, Sacramento River and the surrounding counties," she said.

In contrast, she said, there are plans to give a lot of money to the delta communities to do things like rebuild a marina if it has to be moved.

"There's nothing mentioned at all for compensating the area of origin communities," she said. "That's the biggest issue we see."

Efforts of the Restore the Delta organization have caused the governor to downscale how much water will be taken but not the size of the pipes, Gant said. "They're saying, 'Trust us we'll take less water,'" she said, and the message is "let's go ahead and build it and we'll figure out how to operate it when it's built."

From the California Water Impact Network, former Trinity County natural resources planner Tom Stokely called the plan "an expensive boondoggle" at a time the state is in a budget crisis.

He noted that a cost benefit analysis by the University of the Pacific found the project would pay back a dollar for every $2.50 spent.

Better alternatives, he said, would include reinforcing levees in the delta, water conservation, desalinization, storm water capture and water recycling.

From an environmental standpoint, Stokely is doubtful the plan will benefit wildlife in the delta as billed, and he said the Trinity River will suffer.

While the 2000 Trinity River Record of Decision called for setting Trinity River flows based on water-year type, Stokely notes that the Bureau of Reclamation has water rights for the river that allow minimum flows well below what are called for in that decision.

The bottlenecks in moving water out of the delta have only been beneficial in keeping water in Trinity Lake, he said, and if those are removed the lake will be drained leaving no cold water for fish.

"An absolute disaster for the Trinity River," he said. "This is bad news for the Trinity and everybody who depends on it."

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