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Yurok Tribe Opposes Devin Nunes' HR 1837
by Dan Bacher
Friday Jun 10th, 2011 7:32 PM
"Enactment of H.R. 1837 will undermine the ability of the Bureau of Reclamation to meet its federal trust obligation to protect, preserve and enhance the trust resources of the Yurok Tribe," said Thomas O'Rourke, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe.

Photo of Yurok Tribal Chair, Thomas O'Rourke, at a direct action protest against the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative in Fort Bragg on July 21, 2010. Photo by Dan Bacher.
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Yurok Tribe Opposes Devin Nunes' HR 1837

by Dan Bacher

California's largest Indian Tribe, the Yurok Tribe, has joined the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Modoc Nation, commercial fishing groups, recreational angling organizations, Delta farmers, conservation groups and environmental justice organizations in strongly opposing the San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act (HR 1837) sponsored by Representative Devin Nunes (D-California).

Thomas O'Rourke, Chairman of the Yurok Tribal Council, slammed the bill for favoring a few corporate agribusiness interests to the detriment of fish, fishermen, Tribes and the environment in a letter sent on June 10 to Congressional Leaders. These include Doc Hastings, Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Tom McClintock, Chair of the Water and Power Subcommittee, and Grace Napolitano, Ranking Democratic Member, Water and Power Subcommittee.

"This bill is designed to benefit select CVP (Central Valley Project) water contractors at the expense of State and Federal water quality protection, State water rights laws and Endangered Species Act requirements," said O'Rourke. "Enactment of this bill will undermine the intent and authorities of the CVPIA (Central Valley Project Improvement Act) and seriously threaten the federal government's ability to meet its trust responsibilities to the Yurok Tribe. Enactment will extend Congressional guarantee for the delivery of water to select CVP contractors waiving senior water rights protections and tribal trust obligations to the Yurok Tribe."

O'Rourke emphasized that the bill "will result in severe economic impacts" to the fishing communities of Northern California, including the Yurok Tribe of the Klamath River.

"The primary claim of the supporters of the bill is that the CVPIA has significantly reduced water diversions from the Delta," said O'Rourke. "In fact, since CVPIA was passed in 1992, water diversions from the Delta have increased. Increased south of Delta pumping over the last decade has contributed to the drastic decline of Sacramento River Chinook salmon populations, resulting in state wide ocean commercial and sport salmon season closures in 2009 and 2010."

H.R. 1837 will reduce the mandates of the 1992 CVPIA to protect the fishery and the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, according to O'Rourke. This historic legislation made fish and wildlife a purpose of the Central Valley Project for the first time in history.

"These reductions will further threaten the recovery of endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon and other native fish species and slow the economic recovery of dependent fishing communities," said O'Rourke.

If enacted, the Nunes' bill threatens to undermine the landmark 2000 Trinity River Record of Decision (ROD), and limits the ability of the Bureau of Reclamation to manage the Trinity River Division of the CVP to provide reliable quantities and quality of water for in-river restoration flow releases, O'Rourke stated.

"The Yurok Tribe is the single largest harvester of Trinity River fall Chinook salmon and is dependent upon its fishery to meet our subsistence, economic and ceremonial needs," said O'Rourke. "Enactment of H.R. 1837 will undermine the ability of the Bureau of Reclamation to meet its federal trust obligation to protect, preserve and enhance the trust resources of the Yurok Tribe."

"This bill benefits a select group of CVP water contractors at the expense of public and tribal trust resources of Califomia," he concluded. "We encourage you to defeat this bill and support the ongoing consensus-based efforts in the Bay Delta Conservation Planning process, uphold the San Joaquin River restoration settlement and enforce critical species protections under the federal Endangered Species Act."

The Yurok Tribe sent the letter at a time when one of the largest fish kills in California history is taking place. New federal data show that the CVP and State Water Project (SWP) pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have "salvaged" more than 6 million Sacramento splittail in the past six weeks and more than 51,000 imperiled spring-run chinook this year. The daily totals of fish "salvaged" in the pumps can be found at: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/delta/data/salvage.

“Over the past six weeks, the outlook for Sacramento splittail has gone from bad to dramatically worse,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate for the Center. “Delta pumping operations may have wiped out a significant portion of the juvenile splittail in what could have been a good year for rebuilding the population.”

Miller said the splittail were formerly protected as a threatened species but illegally stripped of protection in 2003. The Fish and Wildlife Service last fall made a controversial determination that the species does not warrant protection, despite the fact that numbers of splittail found in annual California Department of Fish and Game surveys from 2002 to 2010 has been the lowest recorded since surveys began in 1967.

I applaud the Yurok Tribe for officially opposing Devin Nunes' HR 1837. To allow this legislation to pass would result in the extinction of Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other imperiled Delta fish populations, as well as devastating Trinity and Klamath River salmon populations.

For more information about the Yurok Tribe, go to: http://www.yuroktribe.org.