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This update is focused solely on water matters.  There is a long list of people who know more about this subject than I do.  I contacted some of these experts to help me pull together this update.

Water matters are hugely important to Trinity County.  While this is certainly not news to anyone familiar with Trinity County, what might be news is that we are currently in a unique position to impact the way our water is managed.  A process is underway that gives us the opportunity to weigh in on decisions that will have a lasting impact on our lakes and our river.

The content below is meant to establish a shared frame of reference regarding this subject, address some commonly asked questions and concerns, and introduce ideas on how we can work together to make our voices heard.


Why is Trinity Lake the only reservoir in California that is not full?

Trinity Lake is the 3rd largest reservoir in California and it takes a lot longer (compared to other reservoirs) to fill with our average inflows. See the table below for comparison data.


Reservoir Storage (AF) Avg Annual Inflow (AF) Months to Fill at Average Inflow Rate
Trinity Lake 2,448,000 1,320,000 22.3
Shasta Lake 4,552,000 5,360,000 9.7
Lake Oroville 3,500,000 4,330,000 9.7
Folsom Lake 977,000 2,680,000 4.4



We have experienced 5 total critically dry years since 2000 ROD.  We experienced 3 critically dry years in a row – from 2020 to 2022.  This left Trinity Lake in the winter of 2022 at its lowest level in 8 years. It has only been lower in two years since it was constructed – 1977 and 2015.  For more information see

Based on a “wet year” designation, under the 2000 ROD, over 700,000 acre-feet of water was released for river restoration this year.

Some good news – Only 100 TAF will be released from Trinity Lake this year for the CVP (Central Valley Project). 2022-2024 – will be the lowest CVP diversions on record. The 100 TAF to be released to the CVP is primarily to lower temperatures in Lewiston reservoir to help manage Trinity River releases like now when Trinity River flows are lower.  Moving slightly more flow thru Lewiston accomplishes that.  Also, small incremental diversions are made to maintain Whiskeytown summer full pool.

As of June 23, 2023, Trinity Lake Level was 58% full at 1,41 MAF – which is 82% of “normal.”

Who decides what happens to the water in Trinity Lake?

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) – a federal government entity has this authority.

BOR authority comes from agreements reached in the past that include the Trinity River Record of Decision (ROD) reached in 2000.

The ROD specifies how much water is to be released for river restoration purposes. The ROD also speaks to CVP diversions.  The 23-year ROD average is very close to or less than 52% of diversions.

The Trinity Management Council (TMC) provides flow recommendations (within established parameters) to the BOR. Trinity County has one seat/vote on this 8-member council.

Trinity River Restoration Program personnel do not have the authority to limit the amount of water released for restoration purposes, nor to exceed the amounts prescribed by the 2000 ROD.

Why did so much water get released when the lake is so low?

Currently, the amount of water released for restoration is determined by the current water year classification only.

Current program parameters do not take lake levels into consideration when determining how much water to release.

The BOR must release the amount of water allocated for restoration based on the water year type each year to meet the requirements of the 2000 ROD.

Dam maintenance did not cause additional water to be released.

What factors are involved in determining how much water is released each year?

The amount of water released for restoration purposes is determined by the water year classification from reservoir inflow. The classification for this year is “wet.”

  • Very Wet –  815,000 AF
  • Wet –          701,000 AF
  • Normal –     647,000 AF
  • Dry –           453,000 AF
  • Very Dry-    369,000 AF

At this point,

  • lake levels do not factor into the decision regarding how much water to release.
  • impacts on recreation and our economy do not factor into the decision regarding how much water to release or divert.

The amount of water released for the Central Valley Project is determined by the Bureau of Reclamation in Sacramento.

What is the official purpose (and related key goals) of the program that manages water coming out of Trinity Lake?

The Central Valley Project Improvement Act led to fish and wildlife purposes being co-equal to water supply.

Hydropower is currently authorized for a secondary purpose

There are species-specific goals for the number of in-river spawning and the hatchery.

Is the economic impact on Trinity County considered when making decisions about water releases?

At this time, the economic impact on Trinity County is not a factor considered when determining how much water to release.

The Reconsultation mentioned will provide the opportunity to include this factor.

The Environmental Impact Statement for the Reconsultation will analyze the economic impact on the affected stakeholders for future actions. It will not provide a pathway for reimbursement of damages already caused.

What is being done to address concerns about low lake levels?

A process is underway to reconsider the parameters used for managing Trinity Lake water. Considerations include:

  • Manage to a higher minimum storage level to avoid what happened here recently
  • Decreasing diversions to Sacramento during dry years to ensure sufficient water is available for restoration.
  • Better timing of releases for control of temperature – including in the Fall
  • Enhanced management of water temperatures below Lewiston Dam
  • Shifting timing of releases

This process has generated a number of alternatives that are out for review and comment.

The Trinity County Board of Supervisors (based on a collaboration between CAO Trent Tuthill and Tom Stokely) sent a letter presenting concerns regarding alternatives under consideration… and introducing a new alternative.

A key component of this alternative is carrying over water to maintain cold storage pools. Supporting arguments point to the impact on our ability to manage downstream river temperatures.

The current minimum level of 600,000 AF is insufficient. The current minimum level of 600 TAF is insufficient.  The proposed alternative calls for a minimum of “up to 1.2 MAF”  which will be modeled and analyzed. Trinity County’s proposed alternative calls for a minimum of 1.5 MAF.

The Trinity Public Utilities District also sent a letter. Trinity PUD input is generally aligned with that of the BOS.

The goal is to complete the Reconsultation process in time for decision-making next Spring.

Town Hall Meetings – I previously hosted a meeting in Lewiston and another is scheduled in Trinity Center on June 28th from 5 PM to 7 PM at the IOOF Hall.  I hope you can join us.

What will happen next in the Reconsultation Process?

Interested Parties Meetings – these are not open to the public. The Trinity River Watershed Alliance is an Interested party and will be invited to the meeting.

  • The next meeting for CVP is scheduled for 7.7.23
  • The next meeting for Trinity Reservoir is tentatively scheduled for 7.25.23

Public Draft EIS – Late Summer/early Fall 2023.  Note – Trinity County will receive an early draft of this and will provide comment

Biological Assessment to NMFS – Fall 2023

Record of Decision – 2024

What can we do? 

Tom Stokely recently presented information and recommendations to the BOS. His recommendations included the following suggestions for the county and for members of the public.

  • County:
    • Hire a strong attorney who specializes in water litigation/regulation
    • County leaders to attend key meetings
      • CAO – Trent Tuthill and several Supervisors attended most recent Reconsultation Meeting
    • Establish Trinity County Natural Resources Division (to better monitor and provide well-supported input to decision makers during key processes.

Other Suggestions

  • Support efforts of the Trinity River Watershed Alliance – a community-led group dedicated to protecting the interests of Trinity County residents and businesses regarding the management of water coming into and out of Trinity Lake. You can reach the Alliance at the following email address –


Some Key Messaging Suggestions for Outreach

Lake levels should be a factor when determining how much water to release and divert.

Lake levels have a significant impact on the local recreation and tourism-driven economy

Lake levels have a significant impact on the ability to manage downstream temperatures to support healthy fish populations.

The timing of river restoration releases should take economic impact into consideration.

The priority for the use of Trinity River water should be in-basin interests

Useful links

Click on the document name and it will take you to the document


I hope you find these updates of value.  Please feel free to reach out if you have questions, concerns, or suggestions.


Sharing Information  |  Encouraging Engagement