The Trinity River
Trinity River, California
See C-WIN's Trinity River Press Room.
Update on Trinity/Klamath Fish Flow Augmentations in 2013.
The Trinity River is the largest tributary of the Klamath River, which drains much of northern California and southern Oregon. The Trinity originates deep in the remote and rugged Trinity Alps in northwest California’s Trinity County, and joins with the Klamath at Weitchpec, about 45 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
With more than 1,600 miles of watercourse, the Trinity drains almost 3,000 miles of largely pristine woodland and alpine terrain. Historically, the Klamath-Trinity system produced the third largest salmon run in the Lower 48 states, surpassed only by the Sacramento-San Joaquin system and the Columbia River.
The Trinity supported huge runs of Chinook and coho salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and lamprey. Tales were told by old-timers of salmon runs so big people could walk across the river on the backs of the fish. But these runs were more than an abundant resource – they were also a sustainable one. They fed the native people of the region for thousands of years, and remain a source of sustenance to the region’s tribal communities to this day.
Klamath-Trinity Rivers Map
The Trinity River and its environs constitute the heartland of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. Located in Humboldt County, the 144 square mile Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation is the largest Native American sovereign territory in California. The Trinity is also deeply important to the Yurok tribe, whose reservation incorporates the lower Klamath River from the Pacific Ocean to the Trinity River confluence.
For both tribes, the fish were central to their diets, economies and culture. The significance of the fisheries to the Hupa and Yurok nations has been established in numerous court rulings that confirm the right of the tribes to take fish from the Klamath and Trinity Rivers. These rights were also codified in the 1988 Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act. Federal courts also have ruled that sufficient water must be reserved to achieve the “Indian purpose” that drove the creation of the Hupa and Yurok reservations, and that tribal rights to fish-sustaining flows date back to “time immemorial.”
The Trinity River watershed generates an average annual water run-off of 1,250,000 acre feet at Lewiston. Since the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completed Trinity and Lewiston Dams in 1963, as much as 90 percent of the Trinity’s flow at Lewiston has been diverted to the Sacramento River and the federal Central Valley Project for hydropower production and south state irrigation districts, primarily those in the western San Joaquin Valley. Fish populations in the Trinity Basin immediately plummeted following the inception of these diversions. The decline of the runs was exacerbated by other factors, including placer mining, erosion from poor land management and overfishing.
Chinook salmon Trinity River
In the mid-1990s, under the direction of Byron Leydecker, Friends of the Trinity River (FOTR) worked to restore the Trinity River watershed and its once-premier fisheries. But the organization was forced to close with Leydecker’s retirement in 2011. Another blow to efforts to restore the Trinity Basin occurred when Tom Weseloh resigned his position as regional manager of California Trout to work for California Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, necessitating his resignation from the Trinity Adaptive Management Working Group, an important federal advisory committee.
These two developments hobbled attempts to reform the Trinity River Restoration Program, an inter-agency ad hoc group that has not adequately represented fisheries and environmental advocacy interests. Prior to its closure, Friends of the Trinity River designated C-WIN as the beneficiary of remaining FOTR funds. Subsequently, C-WIN analyst and former FOTR board member Tom Stokely has taken on the FOTR mission.
The links below provide additional information on the history and current status of the Trinity River Restoration Program, FOTR’s accomplishments, and C-WIN’s current efforts on Trinity River issues.