The Fish Sniffer - Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Fishermen Blast Bay Delta Conservation Plan

Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Fishermen Blast Bay Delta Conservation Plan

Written By: Dan Bacher, December 29, 2013

The California Natural Resources Agency on December 9 released over 40,000 pages of Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) documents for public review as tribal leaders, fishermen, family farmers, environmentalists, water agency leaders and elected officials held a press conference on the north steps of the State Capitol protesting the project.

The widely-criticized plan proposes to construct three new intakes in the north Delta along the Sacramento River about 35 miles north of the existing South Delta pumping plants. Two 35-mile long twin tunnels would carry the water underground to the existing pumping plants that feed canals stretching hundreds of miles to the south and west.

The release of the public review draft of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and its corresponding Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) triggered a 120-day period for the gathering of public comments, from Dec. 13, 2013 through April 14, 2014.

In a statement, California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird described the BDCP as a “rational, balanced plan to help meet the needs of all Californians for generations to come.”

"By meeting the state's dual goals for BDCP of ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability, we will stabilize and secure against catastrophe the water deliveries that sustain our homes, jobs, and farms, and do so in a way that not only protects but enhances the environment,” he claimed.

However, rather than being a “rational, balanced plan” as Laird claimed it is, Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of Winnemem Wintu Tribe, denounced the tunnel plan as “a death sentence for salmon and a violation of indigenous rights.”

Chief Sisk spoke to re-affirm the Tribe’s opposition against the construction of Brown’s water export tunnels at both the press conference on December 9, as well as at a rally sponsored by Californians for a Fair Water Policy at the State Capitol on December 13.

Sisk said the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Water Project divert too water from the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento River Delta, the largest estuary on the Pacific Coast, to the state’s water brokers to supply unsustainable industrial agriculture, destructive fracking for oil and municipal developments in the desert.

The proposed peripheral tunnels, estimated to cost a total $54.1 billion, will undoubtedly kill the Delta, a delicate mix of salt and freshwater, that is vital to the life cycle of California salmon as well as other fish and species, according to Sisk.

“There is no precedent for the killing of an estuary of this size, so how could any study be trusted to protect the Delta for salmon and other fish?” asked Sisk. “How can they even know what the effects will be? The end of salmon would also mean the end of Winnemem, so the BDCP is a threat to our very existence as indigenous people.”

“As one of the many traditional salmon tribes in California, the Winnemem rely on access to salmon to maintain our cultural and religious practices,” she said. “The peripheral tunnels, if ever constructed, would therefore be in violation of our indigenous rights to maintain our cultural practices with salmon, as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan has been developed without "free, prior and informed consent" by California Tribes, as required under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Articles 10, 11, 19, 28 and 29. (‎)

In fact, the first formal informational meeting for California Tribes on the BDCP was held on December 10, in Sacramento - the day after the EIR/EIS for the tunnel plan was released! That is hardly "free, prior and informed consent - or "government-to-government" consultation, as required under state, federal and international law.

At a recent public meeting in Redding, Natural Resources Agency Deputy Secretary Jerry Meral disclosed that the peripheral tunnels are connected to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s plan to raise Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet. The dam raise that would destroy or submerge nearly 40 sacred sites and destroy potential salmon spawning areas. “We are currently working on plans to re-introduce our salmon above the dam into the McCloud River,” said Sisk.

She said the planned Delta tunnels will require that more water be taken from the Trinity River and Lake Shasta, which is fed by the Upper Sacramento, McCloud and Pit Rivers.

“This plan is not meant to benefit the public of California, native and non-native, but purely to line the coffers of the lobbyists who have been buying off Governor Brown all along, such as Beverly Hills Big Ag billionaire Stewart Resnick and his wife Lynda who contributed $99,000 to his 2010 campaign,” said Sisk.

Sisk emphasized that California is one of four salmon states in the U.S. – and has the potential to become the leading producer of salmon in the nation and the world if the rivers are restored.

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, also slammed the BDCP.

"So, on this Friday the 13th the BDCP public comment period begins," said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). "They give us 40,214 pages of documents – that’s a nine-foot high stack containing 20% more pages than the 32 volumes of the last printed edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. We’re asked to provide comments within 85 working days – that’s 473 pages a day. You can purchase a printed copy for only $3,000."

"Turn the pages and you’ll discover what William Burroughs meant when he observed that, 'a paranoid schizophrenic is simply someone who’s discovered what’s going on,'" quipped Jennings.

Since the State Water Project began exporting water in 1967, water exports have increased by more than 60%; outflow to the Bay has declined by more than 40%, according to Jennings.

"Since 1967, the flow and water quality standards protecting the Delta – inflow, outflow, export ratios, salinity - have been violated hundreds of times, without a single enforcement action taken. Likewise, water rights, area of origin and watershed protection statutes have been ignored," said Jennings.

And since 1967, Delta fisheries have collapsed. "Populations of Delta smelt are down 98.9%, striped bass 99.6%, longfin smelt 99.7%, American shad 89.1%, threadfin shad 98.1% and splittail down 99.4%," he disclosed.

Anadromous fisheries have experienced similar declines. For example, steelhead and winter-run salmon are down 91.7% and 95.5%, respectively, Jennings noted.

"And now, the architects that orchestrated this catastrophe propose to divert more water around an estuary already hemorrhaging from lack of flow. Moreover, they want to build the tunnels now and decide how to operate them later. This is a death sentence for the estuary," he concluded.

Bob Wright, Senior Counsel for Friends of the River, described the government agencies calling the BDCP a “conservation plan” as “a fraud on the public.”

“The plan is to grab the water and in the process take it away from designated critical habitat for several already endangered and threatened species of fish including Sacramento River Winter-Run and Central Valley Spring-Run Chinook Salmon and drive them into extinction,” he emphasized. “That is against the law because federal agencies are prohibited from doing that by the Endangered Species Act."

Zeke Grader, President of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations (PCFFA), summed up the BDCP boondoggle as a “Triple Platinum Lie.”

“It won’t save the salmon, it won’t save the Bay-Delta Estuary, and it won’t increase the water supply,” said Grader.

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