City of Palo Alto pulls out of power users suit against Trinity restoration


Posted on Wed, Jun. 04, 200

Palo Alto will sacrifice electricity to supply Trinity river

By Dan Stober

Mercury News


In a vote that pitted Palo Alto’s reputation for environmentalism against

its desire for cheap electricity, the City Council voted 5-4 this week in

favor of the fish.


The council agreed, in effect, to give up some of the electricity the city

buys from a power station on Northern California’s Trinity river in order

to supply much-needed water to the salmon and steelhead that live there.


The fish are 280 miles north of Palo Alto, near Redding, in the mountainous

Trinity River.


For decades, the city has purchased electricity generated by turbines spun

by water diverted from the Trinity. The amount of water left in the river

downstream of the diversion is a fraction of what flowed before the Trinity

Dam was completed in the early 1960s.


The reduced flow has changed the contours of the river and choked its banks

with thick growths of willows and cottonwoods. The Trinity has become

inhospitable to the spawning salmon that swim upriver all the way from the

pacific Ocean, said Mike Orcutt, the director of fisheries for the Hoopa

Valley tribe, which has lived by the river for thousands of years.


The Clinton Administration in its waning days attempted to revive the

river. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, after riding a dugout canoe down

the river, announced that would increase the water flow down the river and

restore habitat.


That’s when Palo Alto got involved. The city belongs to the Northern

California Power Agency, a consortium of cities and utility districts with

a long-term contract to buy electricity from the dam.


NCPA sued to block the Babbitt plan, and has kept the issue tied up in

court since then. In the meantime, the diverted water continues to provide

electricity to the city and irrigation water to farmers.


But late Tuesday, after a lengthy debate, the city council voted to pull

out of the lawsuit. The other members of the NCPA, however, will continue

the litigation and pay Palo Alto’s share of the legal bill, said George

Fraser, the NCPA general manager.


The largest city is the consortium is Santa Clara, which voted 7-0 last

year to continue the lawsuit.




Contact Dan Stober at or (650) 688-7536.


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