Regional tribes play a major role in the opposition for cultural and environmental reasons
by Dan Bacher
Just before the California Department of Fish and Wildlife released a New Year’s Eve letter revealing that only 2.6 percent of young Chinook salmon had survived deadly hot water on the Sacramento River, a signature collection sponsored by Save California Salmon vs. Sites Reservoir reached 50,000 signatures. .
This milestone also came just a week after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Sites Project Authority announced an extension of the public comment period on the proposed 13,200-acre Sites Reservoir project from January 11 to January 28, 2022.
Sites Reservoir is opposed to California Tribal representatives, environmental justice groups, conservation organizations and fishing groups because the biggest threat they say it poses to endangered salmon and other fish species and ecosystems in the Trinity and Klamath Rivers, Sacramento River, San Francisco Bay -Delta Estuary. It would also affect the rights and culture of the tribe.
“Sites Reservoir infrastructure would cross Colusa, Glenn, Tehama and Yolo counties and divert water south from an already hard-hit Delta and Sacramento River Basin,” Save California Salmon said in a public statement. “The reservoir has been connected to the controversial Delta Tunnel by investors.”
Area conservation groups agree.
“We are pleased that so many people are joining California’s fishermen and are opposed to building new reservoirs that would divert even more water from the already congested Sacramento River and Bay Delta,” said Mike Conroy, CEO of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “This year was catastrophic for California’s historic salmon run … This is not a fish and farming problem. Our fishing families and dependent communities are suffering, and coastal towns are facing rising poverty.
He added, “Sites Reservoir is an expensive water grip that benefits California’s most wastewater brokers, not average Californians.”
In a letter to the federal government on December 31, state wildlife officials revealed that only 2.6% of the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon under Shasta Dam had survived the summer, while the rest died under hot water.
It was after the CDFW warned on July 6, in an update on the status of Sacramento River winter-driven Chinook salmon, that “it is possible that almost all juveniles in the river will not survive this season” as the cold water basin in Lake Shasta is exhausted earlier than modeled due to increased downstream water supplies during hot weather: www.dailykos.com/…
The killing of young fish this year was particularly tragic given that an estimated 9,956 winter run Chinooks returned to the river this year, producing a total of 31,128,320 eggs, according to the CDFW. The potential for a relatively robust run was lost due to the diversion of water to irrigation systems in the spring of 2021.
According to the revised draft environmental impact report and the supplementary draft environmental impact statement, the Sites Reservoir project “would have significant and unavoidable effects on water and air quality, vegetation, wetlands and wildlife and adverse effects on the tribe’s cultural resources, causing further desecration of tribal burial and cultural significant places, ”points out Save California Salmon.
Proponents of the Sites project have argued that it would only divert water during major storms, but Sites Reservoir’s environmental documentation shows that this is not the case, according to project opponents.
“The delta is being further diminished along with its cultural and traditional resources that the tribes have used from the delta for food, medicine, transportation, shelter, clothing, ceremony and traditional lifestyles from the beginning of time,” helps Malissa Tayaba, vice president. from the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, “Further diversions from the Sacramento River watershed will exaggerate an already damaged and declining Delta ecosystem and estuary and our tribal ties to our homelands.”
Tribal members, residents of the Northern State and conservation organizations also say that the Sites Reservoir with its 13,200 acres will be one of the largest reservoirs in California and will include new water discharges from the Sacramento River that could have a negative impact on the Trinity River.
“As the plan includes water storage for the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that supplies federal water project water to Westlands Water District, the largest diversion of Trinity River water, Sites could cause Sacramento, Shasta and Trinity Reservoirs to be overcrowded. The Trinity is the largest tributary to the ailing Klamath River and its coldest water source, ”according to the group.
“We have been working to restore currents to help water quality and to bring salmon back across the dams and back to native salmon survival and tribal lands,” Pit River Tribal member Morning Star Gali explained. “California is losing salmon and our clean water. This is a matter of justice. We already have over 1,000 reservoirs and more water allocated than there are in California. An environmentally damaging private reservoir being built in an area that is important to the natives is a step in the wrong direction. ”
Environmental and commercial fisheries organizations say there is “very little extra water” in rivers in Northern California, where more than five times as much water is allocated as there is (paper water). “These allocations go mainly to large farms that do not do their part to save water during droughts,” the groups claim.
Environmentalists fear that not only salmon are threatened by the Sites Reservoir, but also Delta smelt and other fish species on the verge of extinction; and Sites, along with the proposed Delta tunnel, would make an unsustainable situation even worse. For the fourth year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has reported zero Delta melts at its index stations across the Delta in the 2021 Fall Midwater Trawl Survey.
With last year’s major ecological disasters in mind, justice advocates are calling for California to focus on reforming its outdated water rights systems that “place large landowners over tribes, cities, fishermen and fish instead of building new dams.”