Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Flexibility required for meaningful Trinity River restoration
For many years, my family, friends and fellow San Joaquin Valley farmers have been characterized as the bad guys in the debate over the Trinity River and efforts to restore its fishery. The only problem with this characterization is that it is based on inaccurate information and a flawed analysis of what is required to restore the Trinity River fishery.The Native American tribes whose lands border the Trinity are not the only stakeholders that would be affected by a restoration effort, but they are the only ones standing in the way of an effective restoration plan.
Recently, leaders of the Hoopa Valley and Yurok tribes have staged rallies and issued press releases designed to intimidate water users into dropping their opposition to an ill-advised and illegal plan to restore the Trinity. These efforts are part of the tribes' public relations campaign of fanciful distortions and misstatements designed to pressure other water users to accept their increasingly isolated and unrealistic view of the Trinity River.
They claim the river's flows have been reduced to a mere trickle. They claim the fishery is dying. Yet the Sacramento Bee reported last year the Trinity is one of California's finest steelhead rivers. And they claim the unfortunate death of salmon in the Klamath River in 2002 was related to the Trinity's flows. The National Research Council, however, could not establish any linkage between the Trinity's flows and that event. Further, in that same year, more chinook salmon returned to spawn than in the preceding four years.
More than 40 years ago, at a time when our nation placed great value in harnessing nature's resources, the United States began diverting a portion of the Trinity's headwaters into the Sacramento River. The waters from the Trinity mingled with those of the Sacramento, becoming part of the Central Valley Project. These waters produce clean, inexpensive electrical power, provide irrigation for food-producing farms in the Central Valley and drinking water for growing cities in the Silicon Valley.
Today, however, things are viewed differently. Virtually everyone agrees that more water must be left in the Trinity River for its salmon and steelhead. The only remaining issue is how best to accomplish this restoration.
In 2000, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt issued a restoration plan that would have established fixed inflexible flows on the Trinity. Westlands and others objected, and a U.S. district judge ruled against the plan because it failed to consider the harm it would cause endangered fish in the Sacramento River ecosystem.
Incredibly, this is the restoration plan -- the only restoration plan -- the two tribes will consider.
The Department of Interior recently proposed a new plan that could provide even more water for the Trinity's salmon and steelhead than Secretary Babbitt's plan. It would place decision making in the hands of independent, credible scientists and rely upon the kind of flexible adaptive management most biologists recognize is essential for meaningful fishery restoration. The tribes refuse to discuss it.
San Joaquin Valley farmers believe Interior's plan is a good starting point, despite the fact it could affect our water supplies. But the tribes won't discuss it. Sadly, their refusal to work constructively on a fair and effective restoration plan will lead only to more lawsuits, rancor and delays. In my view, their refusal to participate in the Trinity's restoration is the greatest tragedy of all.
Sal Parra grows tomatoes, onions, garlic and cotton. He has 400 acres in the Westlands Water District near the San Joaquin Valley community of Five Points. This commentary originally ran in the Sacramento Bee, and is published here at the author's request.
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