Newsom: Support Tribes, Cities, and Fish: Fight Trump Water Plan and Westlands' Contract

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Last month Governor Newson issued proclamation declaring October 14, 2019, as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in the State of California. In this proclamation he acknowledged that native people were stewards of land before the conquest of California. 

We thank the governor for the proclamation, however last month on California Native American Day the governor also vetoed legislation (SB 1) that could have helped the state protect our salmon from Trump’s environmental rollbacks. This is unacceptable.

We need more than lip serve from the governor. We need action. We need the Governor to protect California's Tribes, Cities and Fishermen.

We need California to Fight the Trump Water Plan and the proposed permanent contract for the Westlands Water District. 

Last month, the Trump administration released the new Biological Opinion for Long Term Operations for the Central Valley Water Project. This fisheries review replaces an earlier one that concluded Trump’s Water Plan to maximize water deliveries for Central Valley agriculture jeopardizes every ESA listed fish species in the Delta and San Joaquin and Sacramento River systems. In a true Orwellian fashion the new review claims fish do not need water. 

Now the head of Interior David Bernhardt has offered a sweetheart permanent water contract to ex-clients Westlands Water District. This contract would sacrifice salmon, cities water supply and Tribal Water Rights so Westlands could continue to grow almonds in selenium impaired poisoned lands in the desert. 

For California’s Tribes water and salmon are life. For California's Fishermen and coastal towns salmon are their livelihood. For most of the state these threatened rivers feed their drinking water supply. 

As the LA Times just pointed out "The contest is not farms versus fish. It is money versus people, political clout versus the powerless, the haves versus the have-nots.”

The Trump plan would harm the state’s drinking water supply and salmon as it negatively impacts the Sacramento, McCloud, San Joaquin, Yuba, American, and Feather Rivers through increasing water deliveries to large agriculture interests by 23%-39%. This leaves less water for people and fish. It also impacts the Klamath River through Trinity River diversions. The  description of the plan says it all:

“This EIS evaluates alternatives to maximize water supply deliveries and optimize marketable power generation”. 

California needs to change course on water. Even without the new water operation plan California has been facing a crisis. Nearly half of our fish are in danger of going extinct and the state has predicted that if something does not change that Central Valley’s water will be unusable within fifty years due to pollution and diversions. This year the Klamath salmon simply did not show up. These salmon are a major food source to the state’s three largest Tribes, which live in extremely rural areas. 

California's once-abundant salmon have been devastated by dams and diversions. Salmon runs that once numbered in the millions and nourished Native peoples and coastal economies now return each year in the hundreds or less. We are on the brink of losing the salmon. This loss would have widespread health, economic and cultural impacts. Already some of California’s native communities have a suicide rates that are 12 times the national average and diabetes and heart disease rates that are over 3 times the national average. Studies have linked these health issues directly to the loss of salmon in native diets. Coastal cities that once thrived due to the fishing industry now deal with the state's highest unemployment and drug abuse rates. 

No statistics can express what losing the salmon has done to Tribal cultures and the well being as our communities. Unlike many other salmon states, very few of California’s Tribes have established rights to a harvestable surplus of salmon and a land base and no California Tribes are actually able to catch a harvestable surplus of salmon. Many do not even have clean water either due to policies that favor irrigators and polluters. In fact many experts have called the sudden loss of salmon to California native communities cultural genocide. Despite this, decisions that impact native Communities occur many many hours from where people live and fish dependent people are often not involved in decisions and Tribal water and fishing rights are not respected. It is hypocritical that the states like California and cities like San Francisco honor Native people while fighting needed salmon restoration. 

We can do better. California's people are willing to save water and make the changes that help right some historical wrongs. There are examples of cities and the states making choices to support native people. This year Attorney General Becerra litigated against Westlands Water District's ability to raise the Shasta dam because it violated state law by flooding wild and scenic river. The dam raise would also flood one of the last sacred sites that is still used by the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. The rest are under the Shasta Reservoir. Earlier this week a small rural city in California, Eureka returned a sacred site that was taken after a massacre to the Wiyot People in a well attended ceremony. Last year the city of San Francisco passed a resolution to support flow restoration for the Bay Delta to support salmon that the major later vetoed. 

We need more than lip service to California’s Tribal people. We need California to stand up to large corporations, including agribusiness, and to protect our water and declining salmon populations. Governor Newsom campaigned on fighting the Trump administration's environmental rollbacks. We need him to keep his promise

Governor Newsom’s veto of SB 1 was extremely disappointing, but he has a golden opportunity now to redeem himself by litigating against this latest assault on California’s environment and by supporting Tribes’ actions to protect water and regain land.