Published March 21, 2018
The Trinity River water that had sustained the Hupa people’s fishery and 10,000 year-old economy, culture and religion now supplies industrial agriculture with irrigation and hydropower. Westlands Water District uses the lion’s share of that water. Its demand for Trinity water is insatiable.
Federal law and judicial decrees strictly limit Trinity River diversions. They forbid shipping any Trinity water to Westlands that North Coast communities and Indian tribes need for fish, wildlife and economic development.
For 40 years, the Hupa people have fought to enforce those limits and preserve our rights.
Westlands has challenged us every step of the way.
Nonetheless, over Westlands’ objections, our tribe convinced Congress to enact more protection for our water. Over Westlands’ objections, our tribe convinced federal agencies to enforce existing laws. Over Westlands’ objections, our tribe won in court. Yet Westlands remains relentless.
Since 1964, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has caused environmental devastation and transferred enormous wealth from California’s North Coast by diverting Trinity River water from the Hoopa Valley Reservation in the Klamath Basin 400 miles south to the bureau’s San Luis Unit on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Westlands’ land is virtually worthless without imported water. Before the bureau and Westlands signed its federal water service contract in 1963, both knew that the San Joaquin Valley’s west side lacked a surface water supply and that irrigation wells were depleting the groundwater. They knew that federally subsidized water delivery from the Trinity River was the only available source of supply.
They also knew Westlands’ soils were incapable of sustained irrigation without huge expenditures for drainage works and waste water collection, treatment and disposal. If those works were to be built, then reclamation law required irrigators to pay for them. Then, as now, however, crop production could not support those repayment obligations, even with heavy federal subsidies for water and commodity price supports. So the Bureau of Reclamation let Westlands irrigate — and profit — without drainage and with far more Trinity water than the law permitted. Environmental disaster resulted on the lands within the San Luis Unit. Cultural, economic and social disaster descended on the Hupa homeland.
While continuing to reap enormous profits, Westlands sued the federal government for failing to provide the drainage it did not want to pay for. The Bureau of Reclamation and Westlands then crafted a settlement that would shift the full, and long-deferred, cost of environmentally damaging irrigation onto the federal taxpayer. Worse, ignoring our tribe’s urgent requests, the bureau negotiated a settlement that gives Westlands free rein to continue its war on the Trinity and does nothing to help us.
This is the settlement that Westlands claims today is “fair and equitable.”
We don’t think so.
“Fair and equitable” means certainty and finality for our rights. Reclamation’s settlement with Westlands must include binding, enforceable recognition of the water supply that Congress allocated to us from the Trinity River nearly 75 years ago.
“Fair and equitable” means recompense for the devastation caused to the Hupa people by generations of federal water mismanagement.
Finally, “fair and equitable” for the federal taxpayer could also mean decommissioning San Luis Unit lands that under the law are not “practicable of irrigation” and stopping federal water deliveries to them.
The House of Representatives is considering a bill (HR1769) introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford (Kings County), to approve the Westlands drainage settlement. We urge Californians to oppose any form of a settlement that does not do justice to the Hoopa Valley Tribe.
Ryan Jackson is chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, whose reservation land base in Humboldt County is the largest in California.
This BBSNews article originally appeared on Native News Online.