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Winnemem Wintu Tribe Sue to Stop Waste Discharge at Mt. Shasta Water Bottling Facility

It’s a gorgeous warm day in September 2015. Small cascades of cold, pristine water rush out of the hillside at Big Springs, the headwaters of the Sacramento River, as they converge in a clear and shallow pool located in the Mount Shasta City Park.

Adults and children fill their jugs and bottles with the crystalline water that takes 50 years to make it from snow and rain on Mount Shasta down through the volcanic aquifer to where the torrents converge in the park.

The icy water rushes from the hillside to make its way to Lake Siskiyou, then Lake Shasta and then to the Delta and the ocean. People from throughout the world walk along the creek and hike along shaded trails and footpaths that cross through hedges of horsetail fern and willow and across small bridges.

As people hike to and relax besides Big Springs, Caleen Sisk, Chief and Spiritual Leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, and hundreds of environmentalists and activists from all over California and Oregon hold a rally, the “Water Every Drop Sacred” event, in this scenic park at the Sacramento River headwaters. After the rally ends, Sisk and tribal members lead a march and protest of 160 people to the plant.

The Tribe is opposed to the planned opening of the plant, closed after it was operated by the Coca-Cola Bottling Company and other corporations for years, in accordance with its commitment to protect and preserve the Headwaters of the river, the Mount Shasta watershed and sacred tribal lands. Otsuka Holding Co, a Japanese pharmaceutical conglomerate, owns Crystal Geyser.

Move forward to April 28, 2018 and the struggle by the Tribe and local environmentalists to save the headwaters of the Sacramento, the largest and longest river in California, has entered a new stage, a lawsuit against the City of Mount Shasta.

The Winnemem Wintu, who are now leading a campaign to reintroduce winter-run Chinook now thriving in New Zealand back to their home on the McCloud River, and We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review (W.A.T.E.R.) have petitioned the Superior Court of Siskiyou County for a Writ of Mandate (Petition) against the City of Mt. Shasta.

The litigation challenges the city’s March 26, 2018, split-vote approval of the Industrial Waste Discharge Permit for Crystal Geyser Water Company and the city’s conclusion that the project was “adequately considered” in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared by Siskiyou County, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

WATER and the tribe argue in the petition that when the city approved the permit, it abused its discretionary powers in violation of CEQA by relying upon an EIR that “fails to include information necessary for informed decision-making and informed public participation, and in failing to adopt feasible mitigation measures within its jurisdiction.”

Winnemem regard Mount Shasta water as a sacred relative

“The Winnemem Wintu were born from the pristine water of Mount Shasta and regard this water as a sacred relative, a living being that is being exploited, desecrated and polluted when it is put in a plastic bottle and commoditized,” stated Winnemem Wintu Tribal Representatives, Mark Miyoshi and Luisa Navejas.

“When we stand up for the life of the water from this mountain that flows throughout the tribe’s traditional territory and becomes the mighty Sacramento and McCloud Rivers, we are defending the life of all free-flowing streams and rivers and ultimately the precious life of our great Mother Ocean. All voices matter as the value of water is the value of life itself,” they said.

The validity of the EIR has been challenged in a separate case filed against Siskiyou County.

“During the county’s administrative review process of the Crystal Geyser operations and the EIR, the city itself had submitted well-considered and detailed comments strongly objecting to numerous hazards of the project including excessive noise, lighting, traffic, improper wastewater disposal and possible inadequate ground water supplies,” the Tribe and WATER said.

“Subsequently, the city decided to not challenge the EIR in court, but
nonetheless continued to maintain its objections raised in its previous comments on the Draft EIR. These valid issues raised by the city, and also by many other citizens and experts, were barely addressed and never resolved by the county,” the Tribe and WATER continued.

Despite the city’s knowledge that the EIR was potentially insufficient, the city conducted minimal reviews during its consideration of the wastewater permit, and did not make formal “CEQA Findings” as required by CEQA, they argue. Approval of the permit without the required Responsible Agency findings thus violated CEQA.

The tribe and WATER further argue that the approved permit, a revision of the draft permit evaluated in the EIR, includes additional waste streams that were not evaluated in the EIR process.

“Although Crystal Geyser had informed the city of its intention to seek the inclusion of additional waste streams long before the completion of the Draft EIR by the county, the city took no action as a responsible agency to include these known potential waste streams into the EIR’s analysis. In addition, the permit allows for significant delay in requiring the necessary improvements to the city’s wastewater system, and this will result in impacts to the environment,” they said.

They said the city failed to evaluate these impacts and failed to prepare supplemental CEQA documentation in order to support its decision to approve the permit.

The tribe and WATER further allege that the EIR is “faulty” because Siskiyou County failed to complete required A.B. 52 consultation with the Winnemem Wintu tribe. As a result, the EIR cannot support the city’s conclusions in its role as a responsible agency.

Finally, the tribe and WATER assert in the petition the city failed to make formal CEQA findings, and the one-sentence statement in the resolution adopted to approve the permit was insufficient to be considered the “CEQA findings” to support the city’s approval.

W.A.T.E.R. representative Geneva Omann stated, “If this bottling plant is going to be operating here, we want ALL of its effluent to go to the city wastewater treatment plant, but at the very least, the permitting and operations of the bottling plant and the wastewater treatment plant must be in compliance with CEQA. Currently they are not.”

She also said, “We are challenging the permit approval to ensure the wastewater treatment plant, the environment, the Winnemem Wintu’s traditional cultural resources, and city residents are all protected from potential adverse effects of the bottling plant.”

“We are proud to stand with our brothers and sisters of the Winnemem Wintu in defending Water and our community,” she concluded.

Tribe, fishing groups have also filed lawsuit against Delta Tunnels

This is not the only lawsuit that the Winnemem Wintu has filed over the past year. ON August 17, 2017, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, North Coast Rivers Alliance (NCRA), Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR), Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association filed suit against the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) in Sacramento Superior Court to overturn DWR’s approval of the Delta Tunnels, also know as the California WaterFix Project.

”The Winnemem Wintu Tribe has lived on the banks of the McCloud River for thousands of years and our culture is centered on protection and careful, sustainable use of its salmon,” said Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. “Our salmon were stolen from us when Shasta Dam was built in 1944.”

”Since that dark time, we have worked tirelessly to restore this vital salmon run through construction of a fishway around Shasta Dam connecting the Sacramento River to its upper tributaries including the McCloud River.  The Twin Tunnels and its companion proposal to raise Shasta Dam by 18 feet would push the remaining salmon runs toward extinction and inundate our ancestral and sacred homeland along the McCloud River,” Chief Sisk stated.

Chief Sisk is currently running for Assembly District 1 as a Democrat in the June 5 election. For more information, go to: http://www.caleen4assembly.com

The Trump and Brown administrations and project proponents claim the tunnels would fulfill the “coequal goals” of water supply reliability and ecosystem restoration, but opponents point out that project would create no new water while hastening the extinction of winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other imperiled fish species

The project would also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers that have played a central role in the culture, religion and livelihood of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley Tribes for thousands of years.

The tunnels would divert 9,000 cubic feet per second of water from the Sacramento River near Clarksburg and transport it 35 miles via two tunnels 40-feet in diameter for export to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests and Southern California, according to lawsuit documents. The project would divert approximately 6.5 million acre-feet of water per year, a quantity sufficient to flood the entire state of Rhode Island under nearly 7 feet of water.

Run4Salmon Set for September 15 to September 30

Then coming up from September 15 to September 30, the Winnemen Wintu will be sponsoring their #Run4Salmon2018.

”This will be the third year of our prayerful journey upstream to walk, ride, run, and paddle as we continue the work to bring our salmon home,” according to the Tribe. “We just got back from Aotearoa (New Zealand) from releasing our salmon fingerlings into the streams there and we are excited to return to Aotearoa this summer to work on collecting DNA samples from the Chinook returning home to spawn and move forward with our historical restoration project! We are all in this together. The journey continues until our salmon are restored and our sacred sites are protected!”

For more information about the Run4Salmon, go to: http://www.run4salmon.org

For more information about the Delta Tunnels Lawsuit, go to: www.counterpunch.org/…

For more information about the lawsuit against Mt. Shasta City, contact:

Geneva Omann, Secretary, Board of Directors
We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review,
530-918-8805, mountshastawater@gmail.com

Mark Miyoshi, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer
Luisa Navejas, Mt. Shasta District Representative and Water Advisor
WInnemem Wintu Tribe
530-926-4408

More articles by:

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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