by Dan Bacher
Over 200 Tribal members and their allies from the Trinity and Klamath river watersheds held a four-hour protest at the Bureau of Reclamation offices in Sacramento on Tuesday, August 19 to urge them to release more water from upriver dams to stop a massive fish kill.
Members of the Yurok, Klamath and Karuk tribes, as well as leaders of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, displayed an array of signs and banners with slogans including “Fish Need Water,” “Let The River Flow,” "Give Us Our Water, " "Save The Salmon," "Tribal Rights Are Non Negotiable," "Release The Dam Water," "Undam the Klamath - Free the Trinity," "Fish Can't Swim In Money," and "Westlands Sucks The Trinity Dry."
They demanded increased water releases, known as preventative flows, from Lewiston Dam into the Trinity River, the largest tributaryof the Klamath River, to prevent a fish kill from taking place in the currently warm and low water conditions. They also asked federal officials to release more water from Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath.
Participants ranging from young children to elders protested Reclamation’s recent decision to withhold these emergency releases until large numbers – approximately 50 adult dead salmon per mile of river - are documented.
They urged the Bureau to increase water releases from the dams so that a fish kill on the lower Klamath, like the one of September 2002 when over 68,000 fish perished, doesn't occur again.
“We need 25 to keep the fish alive,” they chanted, referring to their demand that the federal agency release 2500 cfs to the river. After holding signs and banners and chanting slogans in front of the federal building complex, they marched to the back to try to meet with Bureau officials.
The federal officials allowed six people to meet with David Murillo, Mid-Pacific Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation, about releasing the flows. Murillo didn't commit to increased flows, but said he would make a decision the following day, August 20 after a meeting of state, federal and Tribal scientists about the flows in Eureka Tuesday.
Lois Moore, Bureau spokesman, said that no decision had been made at press time.
“The biologists from the different federal and state agencies and tribes had a discussion today to produce information for Murrillo to make a decision. Everybody understands how important this water flow is, not only to the fish and the environment but to the tribes,” Moore stated Tuesday.
After the Tuesday meeting at the BOR offices, Danielle Vigil-Masten, Chair of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, said she was "very disappointed.”
“It still feels like they gave us the run around,” said Vigil-Masten. “Scientists have said that the fish need water. Hundreds of people came here today to get an answer. David Murrillo said he would have an answer tomorrow. Prevention of a fish kill is the answer and it seems like nobody cares.”
Frankie Joe Myers of the Yurok Tribe Watershed Restoration Program said he was "cautiously optimistic" after the meeting.
"He listened to us as for as long as we wanted to talk, although we were originally scheduled for just 30 minutes. We told him we wouldn't leave the office until we got a response. He said we could stay in the office as long as we wanted and we wouldn’t get arrested," said Myers.
Chook Chook Hillman, Karuk tribal member, said, “He heard us. We asked him if irrigators are willing to die for water like the rest of us are. He listened, but there were no guarantees. We didn’t want to leave without getting an answer.”
“The tribes asked for bare bones to prevent a fish kill,” he said, "just flows of 2500 cfs."
“I told Murillo that if there is a fish kill, he is responsible for genocide,” said Annelia Hillman, a member of the Klamath Justice Coalition and Yurok Tribe.
Emergency flow releases from Lewiston Dam would take four days to reach the struggling Klamath River salmon, according to a statement from the Klamath Justice Coalition. Fisheries biologists commonly agree that by the time the emergency flows are triggered and the water has traveled from the dam, it would be too late to prevent a large-scale fish die-off. Tribal members say Reclamation is ignoring the beginning stages of a disaster.
“Fish are pooled up at cold water tributaries because the water in the river is so warm and polluted,” said Hoopa Valley Tribal member, Kayla Brown. “These fish are diseased and dying. Once the disease starts to spread, it can’t be stopped and we will have a fish kill on our hands, courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.”
The protesters said five times more water is diverted to the Sacramento Basin for Central Valley irrigators than is released into the Trinity River.
Rally organizers and participants also said they support Klamath River fisheries biologists' assertion that a minimum of 2,500 cubic feet per second be maintained near the mouth of the Klamath River. This can be achieved if the Bureau of Reclamation approves preventative releases from Lewiston Reservoir on the Trinity.
Nat Pennington, Fisheries Biologist for the Salmon River Restoration Council, emphasized, “Klamath River flows are lower than they were during the 2002 fish kill. River temperatures are consistently higher than the acute stress level for Chinook salmon at seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit. If this trend continues, a large-scale fish kill is likely and the Klamath could loose the entire run.”
Karuk tribal member Molli White said, “Reclamation says they need the water for Sacramento River salmon, but our rivers are actually being exported to meet the demands of corporate agriculture like the Westland's Water district.”
White noted that California’s almond growers are projecting an eight percent increase in the 2014 harvest while the rest of California experiences a devastating drought year.
Recent USDA data reveals that California almond growers, one of the major recipients of exported Trinity River and Delta water, will harvest a record 2.1 billion pounds this year. The National Agricultural Statistics Service's estimate is up 5 percent from last year’s crop and 8 percent from the initial 2014 forecast on May 1. If this figure hold ups as the harvest proceeds, it would exceed the record of 2.03 billion pounds in 2011. (http://www.modbee.com/2014/06/30/3417479/usda-forecasts-record-almond-crop.html#storylink=cpy)
“The argument that the Bureau makes that they need flows for endangered salmon in the Sacramento is totally bogus,” said Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), who attended the protest in solidarity with the Tribes. “The water from the Trinity is shipped south not for endangered salmon, but for ‘endangered’ almonds."
When the dams and diversion tunnels were built on the Trinity, laws were set up to protect the river and fish before exporting water to the Central Valley, according to the Klamath Justice Coalition. These laws established that fish, and the tribes that depend on them, are the top priority for the Trinity River flows.
Klamath Justice Coalition members have made it clear that Tribal people and traditional fishermen will not give up until Reclamation releases water.
"We’re fighting so my son, Sregon, doesn't have to worry about water being in the river,” Frankie Joe Myers explained. “The Klamath fish kill of 2002 was devastating for our tribal communities and to the West Coast Fisheries. Previously, Tribes, fisheries scientists, and the Department of the Interior have worked together to avert fish kills by releasing preventative flows during drought years. We need these releases now more then ever.”
Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, concluded, "It is all about showing up, standing up, and speaking up for SALMON! Salmon is water and water is salmon….we are nothing without both!"
Follow the Klamath Justice Coalition on twitter at #releasethewater #savethesalmon #stopafishkill #neveragain
For information about current river conditions and fisheries health visit:
For more information visit http://klamathjustice.blogspot.com/