Hoopa Tribe, Federal Government Reject
Westlands Trinity Proposal
by Dan Bacher
October 25, 2003
Citing the lack of any “new science,” the Hoopa Valley Tribe on October 17 rejected a proposal by the Westlands Water District to settle their lawsuit blocking Trinity River restoration.
“We listened to their proposal in good faith and had our scientists analyze it, but we found no new science that justifies setting aside of the 20 years of science created to support the Trinity Record of Decision,” said Joe Jarnaghan, Hoopa Tribal Councilman.
Westlands presented the proposal to representatives of the Hoopa Valley and Yurok tribes and the federal government during a meeting earlier that week in Sacramento.
The water district, joined by the Northern California Power Association and Sacramento Utility District, filed the lawsuit after Bruce Babbitt issued the historic Record of Decision in December 2000. The ROD would increase Trinity flows to restore salmon and steelhead populations, giving 47 percent of Trinity flows to fish and the remaining 53 percent to agricultural and hydroelectric users.
The tribe turned down the proposal after a team of scientists from the tribe’s trustees, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), told the tribe they would give the Westlands settlement proposal no further consideration.
“We are very pleased that our trustees evaluated this proposal so quickly,” said Mike Orcutt, Director of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Fisheries Department. “We did not want this proposal to become a repeat of the 18 months that were wasted on analyzing the proposal from SMUD. The U.S. Geological Survey eventually declared that plan unworkable, but every analysis of an alternative to the ROD creates the potential for another fish kill.”
In a letter sent to the two federal agencies, the tribe said, “the Westlands proposal has no credible biological or scientific justification to support it.”
SMUD and one member of the NCPA, the City of Palo Alto, pulled out of the litigation this spring, due to pressure from the tribes, anglers and environmental groups, but the other partners remain in the litigation.
“We’re disappointed about the rejection of the settlement by the tribe and the federal government,” said Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Westlands Water District. “We thought our proposal was a very reasonable settlement. It very much mirrors the restoration strategies in the ROD.”
The ROD was based on the premise that flows must mimic natural flows to push young steelhead and salmon downstream, replenish spawning gravel and clear out vegetation. Hull said their proposal would provide 92 percent of the ROD’s flows - and yet not impact Central Valley growers as dramatically as the ROD would.
“The difference between 92 percent and 100 percent is not measurable,” noted Hull. “It would achieve exactly the same benefits as the ROD and is a considerably reasonable and viable proposal. We are confident and hopeful that the parties will continue to look at the proposal - and it is incumbent on others to bring their recommendations to the table.”
The Westlands Water District comprises 540,000 acres of land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. About 100,000 acres are fallow - and the district is planning to retire up to 200,000 acres, since it hasn’t been been able for 12 years to receive 100 percent of its allocation of 1.15 million acre feet of water. “The water district has only been able to rely on half of its allocation in an average delivery year,”said Hull.
However, tribes and environmental groups dismissed the proposal as a “public relations stunt.” “This is an attempt by Westlands to convince people that they are doing the right thing when they’re not,” said Craig Tucker, outreach director of Friends of the River. “It’s not an offer made in good faith.”
Fishery conservation groups and the tribes have for many years criticized the allocation of subsidized federal water to Westlands, since the water is used to irrigate soil that should have never been farmed because of the high concentration of selenium and other toxic minerals in the soil. Besides the harm to fish that occurs because of the diversion of water from the Trinity and other watersheds, the intensive farming has resulted in the discharge of toxic minerals and pesticides into the San Joaquin River, the Delta and San Francisco Bay.
Mike Orcutt noted that the Westlands proposal contained “too many unresolved hypotheses” to be a valid plan for the protection of the Trinity River fishery.
“Westlands consultants freely admitted they only had a few weeks to put their document together. Westlands doesn’t seem to realize that the ROD is a product of careful science and long negotiations about the minimum flows needed to keep the river healthy for fish,” said Orcutt.
The Trinity is the largest tributary of the Klamath River - and produces 30 to 50 percent of the total number of the salmon in the Klamath watershed, depending upon the year. A Bush administration shift in water policy in the Klamath Basin to benefit farmers at the expense of fish resulted in the deaths of over 34,000 fish in the lower Klamath in September 2002. Karl Rove, White House political strategist, engineered the policy shift to curry favor among agribusiness for an Oregon Republican senator facing re-election.
A large percentage of the fish killed were destined for the Trinity. Unfortunately, the Westlands lawsuit blocked the release of flows that could have alleviated the fish kill.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe plans to pursue Congressional legislation to implement the ROD. “This protracted litigation has brought the river’s fish population to dangerously low levels,” said Jarnaghan. “We are asking Congress to keep its word about leaving us enough water for a healthy river. We have no choice but to fight. We don’t have another river to live next to. The fish don’t have another river to spawn in.”
Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org