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Written By: Dan Bacher, August 14, 2014
Tribal members from the Trinity and Klamath rivers, carrying an array of colorful signs, converged on a press conference in Redding, California on Tuesday, August 12 to urge Sally Jewell, Obama's Secretary of Interior, to release Trinity River water out of Lewiston Dam to stop a massive fish kill from taking place on the Klamath.
Jewell met with the protesters, including Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairwoman, Danielle Vigil-Masten, outside the press conference, but made no promises, according to a press release from Got Water and the Alliance to Stop a Klamath River Fish Kill.
Slogans on the signs held by tribal members included "Free Our River," "Water + Fish = Life," and "Our Salmon, Our River, Our Culture," "Save the Trinity," "Sally Jewel, Trinity River Salmon Need Water Now," "Quit Killing Our Fish," and "Release the Dam Water." You can view a klamathmedia video of the protest at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QouOWqNizs
River advocates say releasing water from the Trinity River, the largest tributary to the Klamath, could prevent a large scale Klamath adult fish kill like the one that occurred in September 2002, when over 68,000 salmon perished, due to disease fostered by low, warm water conditions.
Although the press conference was focused on California fires, fishermen and Tribal members said Jewell is ignoring an "even more dire looming disaster," according to Dania Colegrove, Hoopa Tribal member and activist with Got Water.
“The Klamath fish kill of 2002 led to poor salmon returns devastating West Coast fisheries for years afterward. Since then Tribes, scientists and the Department of Interior have worked together to avert fish kills by preventively releasing water during drought years, ” said Colegrove.
Colegrove said preventively releasing water from the Lewiston Dam into the Trinity River cools water and curtails fish diseases in the Klamath River. This scientifically proven method has worked in past years.
"This year Secretary of the Interior Jewell and the Bureau of the Reclamation say fish must begin to die and test positive for disease before emergency flows will be considered," explained Colegrove.
Tribal members told Jewell the fish are already dying. Yet 2,800 cfs is currently going to the Central Valley to benefit corporate agribusiness interests while only 400 cfs, roughly 17%, is going down the Trinity River.
“Once disease starts to spread to large numbers of fish it can’t be stopped. Fish are dying now. We cannot wait any longer, ” Colegrove said.
Colegrove said Jewell is sending about 90% percent of the Trinity River to the Central Valley Project to meet the demands of large-scale agribusiness interests such as the Westlands Water District and Stewart Resnick's Paramount Farms in Kern County. When the dams and tunnels were constructed on the Trinity, it was established that Central Valley users have junior water rights and a series of laws were set up to protect the river and fish. These laws established that fish, and the Tribes that depend on them, are the top priority for the Trinity River’s flow.
“Although she met with us and promised to send someone, we are not sure she will act to stop a fish kill. Hopefully we were loud enough for her to hear us,” Colegrove said.
Colegrove said Tribal members and fishermen are "fed up" and have weeks of actions planned to make sure the Department of Interior stops a fish kill.
Secretary Jewell, after being unexpectedly greeted by demonstrators, agreed to have a discussion with the Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairwoman, Danielle Vigil-Masten, where Jewell stated, “There is an opportunity to do emergency releases, if we see temperature rise, we’ll make sure that people come out.”
Members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe emphasized that will be too late, since stressed and dying salmon need water now.
Chairwoman Vigil-Masten also mentioned the lack of water in the Klamath and Trinity rivers having a profound impact on tribal members, especially during a time when there are no jobs, a lack of industry and a lack of financial resources.
“But, the people taking the water are doing quite well,” said Vigil-Masten. “To me, it’s really frustrating to that millions of dollars are being made on the backs of our salmon and our drinking water.”
Vigil-Masten's statement is backed up by recent USDA data stating that California almond growers, one of the major recipients of exported Trinity River and Delta water, will harvest a record 2.1 billion pounds this year.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service's estimate is up 5 percent from last year’s crop and 8 percent from the initial 2014 forecast on May 1. If this figure hold ups as the harvest proceeds, it would exceed the record of 2.03 billion pounds in 2011. (http://www.modbee.com/2014/06/30/3417479/usda-forecasts-record-almond-crop.html#storylink=cpy)
California supplies about 80 percent of the almonds for the world market and the Northern San Joaquin Valley accounts for nearly a third of the state's production. County crop reports reveal that almonds brought approximately $1.4 billion in gross income to the valley's growers in 2012.
Secretary Jewell also said that she has not made it to the Klamath and Trinity rivers to see the drought’s consequences.
Chairwoman Vigil-Masten suggested that Secretary Jewell look out of her airplane window and see the brown and fire scorched areas of Northern California for herself and then compare that to the green landscape and flooded fields of Southern California.
Chairwoman Vigil-Masten pointed to herself and the protest group, stating, “Then think of us…the people that you are taking water from!”
As documented in my article, "The Emptying of Northern California Reservoirs," the state and federal water agencies systematically emptied Northern California reservoirs during a drought year, 2013, to fill Southern California reservoirs and supply the Westlands Water District and the Kern County Water Agency with subsidized Delta and Trinity River water. As a consequence, Trinity, Shasta, Oroville, Folsom and other Northern California reservoirs were drained to record or near-record low levels, leaving little water for carryover storage in 2014.
While the drought is very real, it has been aggravated by complete - some say criminal - mismanagement of the state's reservoirs and rivers by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/02/07/1275862/-The-Emptying-of-Northern-California-Reservoirs)
Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown is fast-tracking his Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. If built, the project would hasten the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, as well as imperiling the salmon and steelhead populations of the Trinity and Klamath rivers.
Under the guise of habitat "restoration," the $67 billion project would take vast tracts of Delta farmland, among the most fertile soil on the planet, out of agricultural production in order to ship large quantities of northern California water to corporate agribusiness interests irrigating toxic, drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
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