In Northern California, the Trinity River rises in the rugged Trinity Alps northwest of Redding, meanders through tight canyons and mountain meadows along State Route 299, and joins the mighty Klamath River at the Yurok Indian Reservation near Weitchpec. To the indigenous nations who reside in the Klamath-Trinity basin, the rivers’ storied fisheries form the basis of their survival as distinct cultures.
To the US Bureau of Reclamation, however, the Klamath and Trinity rivers are distinct for an altogether different reason. The main stem of the Klamath provides irrigation water to about 200,000 acres of farmland in a highlands desert region of south-central Oregon. And the Trinity is one of the two so-called “headwaters” of the Central Valley Project, the upper Sacramento River being the other. From the bureau’s perspective, the watersheds’ main function is to provide irrigation water for California’s enormous agribusiness sector.
This arrangement has helped turn a large swath of the arid western San Joaquin Valley, located roughly five hundred miles away, into a bountiful — and profitable — farming region. The water exports have had dire consequences, however, for the Klamath and Trinity’s fish populations and the people who depend on them. With California entering its fourth year of drought, longtime observers are warning of even more dire consequences if the federal government continues to pump its customary quantity of the rivers’ water “over the hill.”
“What the Trinity and Klamath are facing is a catastrophe of epic proportions,” said Tom Stokely, a resident of Mt. Shasta and a former Trinity County natural resources planner who is now a policy analyst for the conservation group California Water Impact Network…
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