Tribal Members and Youth Speak Out on Delta Tunnel: 'Shut It Down!'

Annelia Hillman, artist and Yurok Tribal Member, speaks at a rally on Monday as members of the Hoopa Valley High School Water Protectors Club display their sign proclaiming "No Water for Profit!" | 


By Dan Bacher | 

Over 200 people including members of at least seven California Indian Tribal nations, along with some recreational anglers and environmentalists, marched on the meeting room of the Sheraton Inn in Redding on the evening of March 2, shouting “Shut It Down” and “No Water for Profits,” in strident opposition to the Governor’s Delta Tunnel project.

After marching into the room, they testified before the Department of Water Resources staff about damage that would be caused to their livelihoods and culture if the Delta Tunnel is constructed. The meeting only took place under pressure from the Hoopa High Water Protectors Club and their allies, who demanded at the first scoping meeting on February 3 that a meeting be held in the north state.

There were so many speakers that the DWR moderators, under pressure from all of people who had traveled there, finally decided to hold the comment period a half-hour longer than originally planned. Not one person who showed up indicated support for the Delta Tunnel.

Annelia Hillman of Orleans, Yurok Tribal Member and artist, set the tone for the evening when she got the crowd chanting "Shut it Down!” during the rally. Hillman said it’s time for disruption, pointing out that this disruption should take place in two way — the personal and the systemic.

“First, it’s got to start with us by making small changes,” she said. “Change the way you eat. Stop buying Cuties and pistachios.”

“The other thing we need to do is disrupt the system. Get angry. It’s time to fight — we don’t have time left. The destruction needs to stop. It will affect the Klamath — and we won't let it happen. Shut it down!”

Dozens of youth spoke, sang songs and testified during the rally and scoping meeting.  

Kylee Sorrell, Hoopa High Water Protectors Club representative, reflected the view of many tribal youth that showed up at the meeting.

“I should be in school,” she said. "I should be able to be a kid. I should not have to be continually fighting for my river and culture.”

Margo Robbins, an adviser for the Hoopa High School Water Protectors Club, stated, “We're here today at the Delta tunnel scoping meeting to let the government know that we cannot sustain any more diversions from the Trinity River.”

“As native people, we rely on the river and the salmon as part of our traditional heritage. We cannot afford to let anything further erode our river systems,” Robbins testified.  

Morning Star Gali of Save California Salmon, a Pit River Tribal Member, said regarding the water planned for export in the Delta Tunnel, “This is our water. We haven’t had salmon in our river for 80 years now.”

She repeated to the DWR staffers the two questions that she had asked Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot at a meeting in Sacramento in February:

“1. Why is the governor's office not fighting back against the Trump water plan and instead prioritizing plans that will reduce flows for salmon in the delta, Sacramento and Trinity Rivers and cutting "green tape" (i.e. regulations)? 
2. The economies, heath and subsistence of Tribal and coastal communities rely on salmon, how will cutting regulations help protect these communities and restore salmon and why is DWR not reaching out to North State rural and salmon dependent communities on things like the tunnel and water portfolio.”   

Thomas Joseph, Hoopa Valley Tribal Member, talked about how salmon have been decimated over the past 200 years, and noted that if it wasn’t for the Hoopa Valley High school students, the Redding meeting would have not been held. 

”This society can’t continue to act in this matter,” Joseph said. “It’s about respect — about building a society that’s sustainable — instead of growing food in the desert. This process (the Delta Tunnel) is NOT going to happen. We’re going to shut it down — even if it means shutting the whole economy down,” said Joseph.

The Governor’s Delta Tunnel’s plan is being promoted by the Newsom Administration after a fall when low numbers of fall Chinook salmon ascended the Trinity and Klamath rivers. As a consequence, the Klamath River fall Chinook abundance forecast of 186,600 adult salmon is even lower than the 2019 forecast and will likely result in big restrictions and/or closures for Tribal, recreational and commercial ocean fishermen this year.  

Carrie Buckman, the DWR program manager who conducted the Redding meeting and previous scoping meetings around the state, said, "The project does not include any changes to the Trinity or Klamath rivers," after Dania Colegrove, a Hoopa Valley Tribal Member, asked why the Trinity River wasn’t included in the map of watersheds impacted by Delta Conveyance.

However, meeting attendees weren’t impressed with DWR’s claim that the Delta Tunnel wouldn’t impact flows on the Trinity, the largest tributary of the Klamath. 

“Despite many promises over the years to leave Trinity River flows intact, we have uncovered evidence that there are plans to increase exports of Trinity water to the Central Valley,” said Georgianna Myers of the Yurok Tribe. “The Delta tunnel project only increases the risks to the Trinity River.”

“Promises to protect the Trinity in the past were broken time and again.  We say no more.  The fisheries in the Klamath and Trinity are at a breaking point, and we cannot endure any more.  Simply put, the Klamath and Trinity rivers are everything to us,” she concluded.

Richard Myers, a member of the Yurok Cultural Committee and a former Councilmember from the village of Sregon, emphasized that the state and federal governments haven’t consulted with the Tribes along the Klamath and Trinity rivers, even though they will be impacted greatly by the Delta Tunnel, voluntary settlements, Sites Reservoir and other water plans.

“There’s a trust responsibility here some place. Somebody’s supposed to talk to the tribes if there’s going to be any impact on the river. So far I haven’t heard of any. And the state needs to talk with all three or four tribes up and down the river. We are people. And you can see the shape of the river’s in now – it’s horrible,” he said.

A dozen members of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe and their Chief, Caleen Sisk, showed up at the meeting and sang a traditional song after the meeting ended. The Winnemem are a traditional salmon people working to bring back the native run of McCloud River winter Chinook salmon back from New Zealand, where they were introduced 100 years, to their native river above Shasta Dam.

recent report revealed that 45 percent of California’s fisheries are facing extinction within 50 years. Loss of habitat, low river flows and poor water quality are the main issues impacting the fish in the Klamath and Sacramento River watersheds and Bay Delta, according to Save Our Salmon.

“Truth and healing cannot happen under Governor Newsom’s regime if the state is going to support water projects that destroy our salmon runs,” said Caleen Sisk in a statement before the meeting, referring to Newsom’s executive orderapologizing for the genocides survived California Indigenous peoples around the state. “We believe that whatever happens to the salmon will happen to us as a tribal people, and this Tunnel is part of the larger plan that would make the extinction of salmon final.”    

Sisk and other Tribal representatives at the meeting called on Governor Newsom to adhere to his obligation, as required by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, to procure free, prior and informed consent from tribes for any project that may impact their ancestral homelands. They are also asking for the Governor to stand with them to fight the Trump administration's new water diversion rules from California’s salmon rivers. 

In her testimony, Sisk pointed out how the Winnemem and other Tribes are threatened by the federal plan to raise Shasta Dam and the Delta Tunnel — and criticized the limited amount of time provided to comment, as well as the failure to answer the questions she has asked in tunnel scoping meetings she has attended:

“We didn’t get even get 3 minutes to speak against the Shasta Dam! Look at the poisons in the bottom of that lake that holds the water for exporting — even though we hold the first in time water rights.
There needs to be a better process where you address the people’s questions. This meeting is unacceptable when you are not prepared to allow all speakers to talk. Another meeting should be scheduled. 

Where are the studies about the digging up of the Delta? The results of science on the arsenic, mercury, soil slurry lies? Also, where are the Miwok villages sites, sacred sites, and burial grounds?
There needs to be a reorganizing of the south delta gates, and necessary fish screens to increase Chinook populations. California needs to become a Salmon State again. 

Where is the study of the digging up 150 feet in to the bottom of the delta? Where is the study of the underground springs in the sensitive estuary? This estuary is the largest estuary on the Pacific coast.”

What the Governor is doing is not bringing truth and healing!! Also, you know Doug LaMalfa is for these horrific heightened water exports to Westlands. When will the questions be answered and how? So far none of my questions have been answered!” 

Other speakers at the meeting included Robert Weese of Northern California Guide Service, who displayed documents to the DWR staff showing how the state and federal government had failed to meeting the doubling goals for salmon and steelhead set under the Central Valley Improvement Act of 1992. He also described how the DWR had broken its agreement to produce 1 million additional salmon as mitigation for the Oroville Dam disaster of 2017.

Jack Trout of Jack Trout Fly Fishing, who guides on the Klamath and Sacramento Rivers and books other guides for fishing adventures around the world, said, "We need to send a message to Gavin Newsom that they cannot do this tunnel — and deliver our water down to the south state. They need to work on solutions.”

Atta Stevenson, Cahto Tribal Member and a board member of the California Indian Water Commission (CIWC), read a letter to Governor Newsom signed by her and the three other Commission members — President Don Hankins, Vice President Randy Yonemura and Secretary Roger Aguilar — opposing the Delta Tunnel. The first paragraph stated: 

“The California Indian Water Commission strongly opposes the Delta Conveyance Project. It appears the Water Resilience Portfolio, Sites Reservoir and Voluntary Agreement do not give credence nor acknowledge traditional knowledge, historical data or salmon sustainability for increased water diversions from the Trinity, Klamath and Sacramento Rivers...Tribal subsistence depends on healthy salmon runs, thus sustaining ceremonial and traditional stewardship, fishing techniques, songs and stories that keep the salmon sacred. Increased water diversions clearly discriminate against small rural communities and jobs that healthy salmon runs give economic relief too.”

Stevenson also personally told DWR and the crowd at the meeting, “Resistance is our duty and right. Non-violent resistance must be taken to address and counteract broken treaties, treaties and cultural ways of life. Non violent direct action will be the answer.”

Public comments on the Delta Conveyance Scoping (Delta Tunnel) are due on March 20, 2020 by 5 p.m. and may be submitted via email at DeltaConveyanceScoping@water.ca.gov. Talking points can also be found on Save California Salmon website on the Alerts page.

Background: Tribes and river communities threatened by state and federal water plans

The proposed Delta Tunnel would be able to pump an additional 6,000 cubic feet per second (for reference, the flow of the Klamath River was less than 1,000 cfs this month) from the Bay Delta estuary, according to Regina Chichizola, co-director of Save California Salmon. 

The water, diverted from the Trinity, McCloud and Sacramento river systems, would be exported south, further threatening salmon and endangering the water quality of the North State in addition to the Delta’s salmon stocks, Delta smelt and other fish species. 

The Trinity River, diverted into the Sacramento River through a tunnel in the Trinity Mountains from Lewiston Reservoir to Whiskeytown Reservoir to feed the federal Central Valley Water Project, is the Klamath River's largest tributary. The Hoopa Valley, Yurok, and Karuk people’s livelihood and lifeways are inextricably connected to the salmon runs on the Trinity and Klamath Rivers. They say the Delta Tunnel, in conjunction with the Sites Reservoir and new Trump water plan, could be the “death knell for California salmon.”  

Under the newly released “water resilience portfolio,” the Newsom administration is prioritizing the Delta Tunnel as well as the Sites reservoir, a $14.7 billion, 1.8 million acre-foot project that would also be devastating for salmon and our communities’ water quality. 

This comes on the heels of President Trump signing a Record of Decision (ROD) regarding authorizing more exports of water from California rivers for Big Ag — in violation of the best available science that found the water is needed to protect endangered species. In addition, the Bureau of Reclamation signed a permanent contract with the nation’s largest agricultural water district, the powerful and politically connected Westlands Water District, on February 28.

Trump’s Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for Westlands, as well as for the oil industry. While California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra is suing the Trump administration to prevent the increase of water exports and protect endangered species, salmon advocates say that Governor Newsom must realize promoting the Sites Reservoir and Delta Tunnel also ignores the science, endangers salmon and violates the sovereignty of California’s tribes and salmon people, according to Chichizola. 

For more information, follow Save California Salmon on Facebook or visit www.californiasalmon.org.













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