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Give the Trinity River Back to the Salmon

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District is setting the stage for the next Trinity River fish kill. The SMUD board voted to do this despite the Hoopa Valley tribe asking SMUD to drop a lawsuit that would damage both the river and fish.

The recent deaths of 30,000 fish on the Klamath River in Humboldt County are a tragic indication of how political expediency combined with economic greed can destroy a unique part of California’s environment. The Klamath River is connected to the Trinity River, which runs through our reservation. Many of the dead fish in the Klamath River came from our tribal fishery.

These fish died because they did not get enough water. The water was given to farmers in Oregon who illegally opened the water gates while the federal government did nothing to protect the rights of either Native Americans or endangered salmon.

As chairman of the Hoopa Valley tribe, the loss of these fish grieves me. We have performed religious dances for thousands of years to give thanks for this source of food and spirituality.

We cooperated for 20 years with the U.S. Department of the Interior to develop a plan to share waters of the Trinity River with out-of-basin users. In the past, those users have taken up to 90 percent of the river’s water and have devastated fish spawning. When former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt signed an agreement in 2000 to leave 47 percent of the water in the river, SMUD joined Westlands Water District in a suit blocking the agreement.

Utility economists calculate it would only cost the average Sacramento utility consumer $2 a year more if SMUD’s share of Trinity River water was held to 53 percent. This seems a small price for saving an endangered species and one of the last wild and scenic rivers in America.

But, when the Hoopa Valley tribe asked SMUD to drop its lawsuit, the board voted 6-1 to continue it. (Susan Patterson voted against continuing the suit.) This from a board with a public mission statement promising energy “in an environmentally responsible manner.”

This is especially sad in light of an October 1 Sacramento Bee article noting that “SMUD could soon be raising more money than it needs through rates.” Some SMUD board members are running for re-election and are talking about giving customers a rebate. If board members really want to give their customers something significant, they should consider giving the water back to fish in the Trinity River.

Clifford Lyle Marshall is chairman of the Hoopa Valley tribe.

 

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