Sites Reservoir Project draws criticism from fisherman, tribes, and conservation groups

A coalition of 27 fishermen, Native Americans, and environmental organizations allege that the Sites Project Authority has left out key facts in their environmental review which serves to downplay impacts.(Photo: ifrfish.org)

Sites Reservoir Project threatens fisheries in two watersheds—environmental review short on facts

News Release

Noah Oppenheim, PCFFA and IFR (207) 233-0400

Chief Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu Tribe (530) 229-4096

Tom Stokely, Save California Salmon 530-524-0315

A coalition of 27 fishermen, Native Americans, and environmental organizations sent a letter expressing concerns about the impacts to salmon and water quality from proposed diversion associated with the Sites Reservoir Project. The groups allege that the Sites Project Authority has left out key facts in their environmental review which serves to downplay impacts.

“We are here to demand a full accounting of the environmental impacts to the Trinity and Sacramento Rivers,” said Noah Oppenheim, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. Both rivers have suffered a steady decline in fisheries for the past several decades and most experts see dams and diversions as the reason. The declines in salmon stocks have crippled California’s salmon fleet, diminished recreational fishing opportunities, and undermined Tribal fisheries and cultural practices.

The groups want the Sites Project Authority to revise its Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Report (DEIS/EIR) to analyze all the impacts of the project and then recirculate it for public comment. The coalition also wrote to ask that the California Water Commission support their request.

The Sites project is a proposed off-stream storage reservoir near Maxwell that would store water pumped from the Sacramento River and the Trinity River which is a natural tributary to the Klamath River but also diverted to the Sacramento River. Thus, it impacts imperiled salmon runs both of California’s greatest salmon streams.

“The California Water Commission has awarded $816 million in state bond funds for the project, yet our review shows serious impacts to Sacramento River, Klamath River, and Bay Delta would stem from operations of this reservoir“ stated Oppenheim. “These rivers sustain California’s commercial fishing industry, and they’re already severely over-appropriated. We have already lost 90 percent of our fleet due to poor water management, and we cannot afford to lose more salmon or more jobs.”

The coalition identified a number of issues that were not adequately addressed in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Report that was released in late 2017 such as:

  • A discrepancy in the minimum required flows for fish in the Sacramento River
  • The lack of a clear operations plan
  • No formal consultation with affected Indian Tribes
  • Lack of compliance with the California Endangered Species Act
  • Failure to disclose impacts to the Delta
  • Failure to disclose numerous water quality issues such as mercury methylation from the inundation of mine tailings, increased potential for algae blooms, and salinity impacts
  • Failure to describe the steps to obtain federal approvals for a hydropower facility

Representatives of the coalition will present their request first to the California Water Commission (CWC) on March 20 in Sacramento. The coalition also plans on presenting the request to the in April.

Fishermen are not the only ones concerned about the fisheries impacts from the Sites Reservoir. Tribes from the Sacramento and Klamath Tribe have asked for fisheries protections from the Sites Authority. “We are concerned that tribes have not been consulted nor assured that this project will not take water that salmon need, especially drought years,” stated Chief Caleen Sisk from the Winnemem Wintu Tribe “If the Sites Authority had initiated Tribal consultation with Klamath River and Sacramento Tribes we would have identified these issues, along with mitigations measures to protect the salmon.”

The coalition also identified undisclosed impacts and lack of mitigation for the Trinity and Lower Klamath rivers. These impacts led the Karuk Tribe to similarly request recirculation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Report and government-to-government consultation on the matter. The Tribe cited impacts to the Trinity and Lower Klamath River that were not analyzed in the Environmental Impact Statement but identified by independent scientific analysis.

The Karuk Tribe is not alone in their concern that the Sites Project could impact cold water flows that are needed to avoid Klamath River Fish kills.

Tom Stokely with Save California Salmon said, “The Sites Project Authority had promised there would be no impacts to the Trinity River from Sites. However, a hydrologist found that the project will increase water temperatures for spawning fish in the Trinity River during dry years. The project also promises to deliver water to the new reservoir and its customers that are already committed to the Trinity and Lower Klamath rivers to prevent another huge adult salmon fish kill like the one experienced in 2002 on the Lower Klamath.”

“Until these issues are analyzed and resolved in a revised environmental document we cannot support California’s decision to fund and promote the Sites Reservoir” stated Stokely.

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