Hoopa Tribe, Commercial Fishermen Alarmed Over
Closed Door Water Accord
by Dan Bacher
August 23, 2003
A truism of California water politics is that water always flows to money - and that virtually always means from north to south.
In the latest battle of the state’s water wars, fishery conservation groups and the Hoopa Valley Tribe are alarmed about a state and federal plan that paves the way for the increased export of Sacramento and Trinity River water to southern California cities and west side San Joaquin Valley water contractors.
The plan resulted from four days of closed-door meetings between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the state's major water contractors. The goal of the “Napa Proposition,” named for the city it was negotiated in, is purportedly to increase the efficiency of the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project by better integrating their existing system of reservoirs, canals and pumping facilities.
“In this draft plan, we are trying to find a better way to manage water in California,” said Jeff McCracken. “The Bureau has the larger storage capability, over 11,000,000 acre feet, while the state has the ability to pump more water.”
Since the state’s pumping facilities have a greater delivery capacity, the parties are proposing that the state pump 100,000 acre feet for the federal wildlife refuges in the San Joaquin Valley. In turn, the Bureau of Reclamation could store some 100,000 acre feet of state water for use by cities and farms in dry years.
“The plan includes the ability to ship more water south of the Delta,” said McCracken, “but it wouldn’t take additional water out of the system. This is because in what we call ‘Phase 8,’ we are requiring other water users and agencies in the Central Valley to leave more water for Delta-Bay outflows. Up until now, only the state and federal governments have been required to provide water for Bay-Delta water quality.”
The federal and state governments are claiming that the plan wouldn’t adversely impact fisheries. The plan purports to “meet California’s water needs” while “also advancing implementation” of the CALFED Bay-Delta program to restore fish and wildlife.
However, recreational and commercial fishing and environmental groups, who were not invited to the negotiations, are concerned that the plan will result in a net loss of flows to San Francisco Bay, the west coast's largest and most important estuary. Salmon, steelhead, striped bass and sturgeon depend for their survival upon freshwater inflows into the estuary. Dungeness crab, herring and other species also depend upon the complex food chain sustained by inflows.
“This would damage fish resources that rely on the Bay-Delta estuary and undercut the state and federal salmon doubling plans,” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA).
Not only were fishery groups deliberately left out of the meetings, but the Yurok and Hoopa tribes and smaller water agencies like the Contra Costa Water District weren’t invited either.
"This is a throwback to the dark days of backroom deals made between government agencies and water users," said Grader. "These are the hidden business practices we expect from Dick Cheney and Ken Lay, not the open collaborations CALFED was built on."
Besides the Sacramento-San Joaquin River and Bay-Delta fisheries, the Trinity and Klamath River fisheries - devastated by a huge fish kill last year - are also impacted by the water pact. The Hoopa Valley Tribe asked federal and state officials for assurances that these negotiations will not affect a plan to restore the Trinity River.
"The water allocations in past decades have not left enough water in the Trinity River for our fishery," said Hoopa Tribal Chairman Clifford Lyle Marshall. "I see these new water negotiations as an opportunity for the Bureau of Reclamation to ask their water contractors to stop taking so much water from the river.”
The tribe has asked federal and state officials to include language in the water agreement to ensure enough water will be left in the Trinity River for salmon and steelhead spawning.
"We have been verbally assured that the statewide water plan will include water for the Trinity River," said Marshall. "But since l955, the federal government has allowed our river's fishery to slowly die. We worked with the U.S. Department of Interior for 20 years on an agreement to share the river's water. All we wanted was enough water for the fish.”
In December 2000, Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt signed the Record of Decision (ROD) to begin the long-overdue restoration of the Trinity. However, the Westlands Water District, Northern California Power Agency and Sacramento Municipal Utility District immediately went to court to block the plan. Faced with opposition by their ratepayers, environmental groups and the tribe, SMUD and the City of Palo Alto pulled out of the lawsuit this spring.
Marshall pointed out these latest negotiations present an opportunity to finally end the legal battles over Trinity water.
“In order to save the river, our trustee should require water contractors to accept the ROD,” said Marshall. “If federal and state negotiators miss this opportunity to end the litigation, it will go on for years while more fish die. These water contractors don't realize that they're killing a national treasure; one of the most beautiful scenic rivers left in the west, a river that's still alive with salmon, steelhead and all forms of aquatic life, with clean water that's safe enough to swim in. We're fighting with everything we've got to keep this river and its ecosystem alive, not just for Indians, but for everybody. We need help.”
Although fishermen and the tribes were excluded from the negotiations to craft the draft plan, the document will now undergo a review by fishery agencies and the public. The document is available on the web at http://www.usbr.gove/mp/cvp/DraftProp Operations.pdf.