Indians rally to restore Trinity River flows
They target a coalition of power agencies and a
huge water district.
By Jennifer K. Morita -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Tuesday, March 16, 2004
Dana Rose, a Hoopa Valley
Indian, protests outside the Northern California
Power Agency in Roseville on Monday. Hoopa and
Yurok Indians say the agency is taking too much
Trinity River water.
Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki
They say that years ago, the Trinity River was so
full of fish you could walk across the water on
the backs of salmon.
A fisherman could spend three days on the river
and catch enough food for an entire year.
Now, two American Indian tribes say the Northern
California Power Agency and one of the nation's
largest water districts are taking too much water
out of the river, destroying the fish population and
their way of life.
Roughly 60 Hoopa Valley and Yurok Indians, along
with members of Friends of the River, demonstrated
in front of NCPA offices in Roseville on Monday
afternoon. They waved signs, beat a ceremonial drum
and asked the agency to end a legal battle that they
say has blocked restoration of the Trinity River for
"The river is our lifeline," said Tabitha
Chenault, a 21-year-old member of the Yurok tribe.
"But these last few years, the river and fish have
started to die. All you have to do is walk by and
see the dead fish floating down the river. It's an
awful, awful sight."
The Trinity River, which flows from the Trinity
Alps near Redding to the Pacific Ocean, was dammed
40 years ago by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Up
to 90 percent of the river's flow was diverted to
irrigate Central Valley farms and provide hydropower
to cities such as Sacramento.
As a result, salmon and steelhead trout
populations have declined over the years. In 2002,
33,000 fish died along the lower Klamath River. Some
scientists say that if water had been restored to
the Klamath from the Trinity River, some of the fish
may have been saved.
Kendall Allen, 16, who spent the day
demonstrating in front of the NCPA offices,
remembered the fish kill.
"It was so gross," Allen said. "It stunk and it
The U.S. Interior Department approved a plan to
restore nearly half of the Trinity's historical
flows, but a federal judge blocked the plan after
Westlands Water District sued. Westlands, a
600,000-acre district in Fresno and Kings counties,
later was joined by the Sacramento Municipal Utility
District and the Northern California Power Agency, a
coalition of public power agencies.
NCPA officials say the government focused too
much on increasing the water flow and didn't
consider other alternatives.
"Fundamentally, we feel we're on the same side,"
NCPA Legislative Director John Fistolera said. "We
share the same goal of restoring the river and
fisheries, but we have to do it in a way that is
science-based and takes a responsible look at
everyone's needs and objectives."
NCPA Assistant General Manager Jane Dunn
Cirrincione said the only way to effectively restore
the river is to continually evaluate flow levels and
adjust the plan accordingly.
"The concern is if you lock into a single flow
level, it doesn't give federal agencies the
flexibility to evaluate the impact on the waterway
and see if it helps further restoration goals, or
set restoration goals back," Cirrincione said.
SMUD dropped out of the lawsuit last year, and
Hoopa representatives have been appealing to
individual NCPA members to follow suit.
So far, the cities of Palo Alto and Alameda have
Remaining litigants include Westlands Water
District and the cities of Roseville, Santa Clara
Fistolera said the lawsuit has worked its course,
and the Department of the Interior is conducting a
new environmental study of its proposed plan that he
expects will be released any day.
Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Clifford Lyle
Marshall offered NCPA officials a basket of homemade
kippered salmon and asked the agency to drop its
"We hope you will do the right thing," Marshall
said, extending an invitation to visit the tribe.
"Spend a few days rafting or try fishing. If you saw
the river even once, you'll understand why we love
it so much and understand why it's so important to
Hoopa Valley Tribal Councilman Joseph Jarnaghan
said the Trinity River's average flow used to be 1.2
million acre-feet a year.
"Now it's 120,000 acre-feet; that's 10 percent of
what it used to be," Jarnaghan said. "You can
imagine what the Sacramento River would look like if
it was only 10 percent of it's flow. It's just
"To us, the river is a way of life. We live, work
and play in that water. It's something we've always
had, and something we plan to always have in the
Several younger members of the tribe also
attended the demonstration, including Marshall's
18-year-old son Cliff Marshall Jr.
"You can see the decay of the river," the younger
Marshall said. "There didn't used to be as much
moss, and it used to be one of the clearest rivers
around. We used to swim in the Klamath River when I
was a kid, and now it's brown.
"This century will be one of the most desperate
times for the Indian people because a lot is being
lost. ... We're trying to hold on to what we can."
About the Writer
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