Central Valley
Central Valley
Indybay Regions North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area California United States International Americas Haiti Iraq Palestine Afghanistan
From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature

California Tribes, E.J. group file comments on voluntary water agreements with the State Water Board

by Dan Bacher
“As long as the state upholds historic water rights, that we all know to be racist and unfair, we will continue to have first- and second-class California communities,” said Dillon Delvo, Executive Director, Little Manila.
Stanford, CA – As Central Valley salmon populations plummet and the Bay-Delta ecosystem continues to collapse, a coalition of California Tribes and Bay-Delta Environmental Justice groups submitted comments on Feb. 8 regarding the Draft Scientific Basis Report for proposed Voluntary Agreements (VAs) for the Sacramento River, Delta, and Tributaries Update to the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Water Quality Control Plan.

The Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, acting in the role of attorneys for Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, Winnemem Wintu Tribe, Little Manila Rising, Restore the Delta, and Save California Salmon, filed the comments with the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento, according to a press statement from the coalition.

This same coalition filed a civil rights complaint with the federal EPA against the State Water Board in December 2022:…

The VA comments start by establishing the coalition’s standing and rights in California water negotiations:

“For tribes in the Bay Delta and its headwaters, this means protecting culture, religion, and ways of life that depend on healthy populations of native fish species and the ability to interact with clean, free-flowing waterways. Meanwhile, for members of Delta communities, it means having a healthy place to live, including one that provides safe, accessible recreation. These interests would be compromised by the Voluntary Agreement proposal.”

The concerns outlined in the comments letter include the following:

• “The Board failed to meaningfully consult tribes (who were already excluded from negotiation of the VAs) in the process of evaluating the VA proposal.

• The Report fails to incorporate the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of communities that sustainably stewarded Bay-Delta waterways for millennia, and fails to consider the impacts of the VA proposal on tribes’ cultural resources, religion, and ways of life that are connected to the unique beneficial uses tribes make of Bay-Delta waterways.

• The Supplemental Report understates the importance of instream flows to Delta fisheries, despite scientific consensus and the Board’s own conclusions that instream flows – and not physical habitat – are the limiting factor in their recovery.

• The value of the Scientific Basis report is undercut due to the Board’s omission of considerations like temperature and climate change.

• The Supplemental Report does not explore how the VA measures will help reduce Harmful Algal Blooms, which create inhospitable conditions for fish and wildlife, as well as for Delta environmental justice communities and tribes.”  

Members of the coalition commented on their submission of the comments to the State Water Board:

“Our ancestral homelands span Sacramento, El Dorado, Amador, Sutter, Yolo, Placer, and Yuba counties,” said Malissa Tayaba, Vice Chair, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians. “Since the beginning of time, we have taken care of the land, the rivers, the streams, the plants, animals, and our traditional resources. The Sacramento Bay Delta is the heart of my tribal community and holds vital resources that have sustained the many indigenous communities that are touched by its influence. Poor water quality now affects the plant and animal resources of the Delta region as well as the Tribe’s cultural practices, and ability to carry on our cultural traditions.”

“The State Water Board, which is tasked with protecting our water, has neglected its responsibilities to Tribes, communities of color, and environmental justice communities for too long,” stated Morning Star Gali, Ajumawi band of the Pit River Tribe in Northeastern California, Save California Salmon. “Moving forward with protecting California’s clean water and designating Tribal Beneficial Uses would greatly help our salmon relatives who are vital to the culture, traditions, and health of my Tribe, along with the millions of Californians in cities that rely on the Delta watershed for their drinking water.” 

“It’s pretty bad when California Indians have to file a complaint with the Federal Government so that the State doesn’t violate our civil rights,” noted Gary Mulcahy, Government Liaison, Winnemem Wintu Tribe, regarding the coalition’s EPA civil rights filing.

“As long as the state upholds historic water rights, that we all know to be racist and unfair, we will continue to have first- and second-class California communities,” said Dillon Delvo, Executive Director, Little Manila.

“Recreational users and fishermen who depend on the fish here are particularly affected by harmful algal blooms,” stated Artie Valencia, Community Organizer, Restore the Delta. “A friend who got rashes from water skiing in the Delta this past summer will never go into the waterways again after learning about the Delta’s harmful algal blooms.

“I see Stockton residents, mostly immigrants and people of color, fishing in Stockton waterways often for sustenance. For fishermen, the fish that once thrived in the Delta become fewer and fewer in number every year,” Valencia concluded.

The complaint was filed at a time when Central Valley rivers and the Bay-Delta Estuary are in their worst ecological crisis ever, due to decades of massive water exports by the state and federal water projects to agribusiness and Southern California water agencies, along with the poor management of salmon-blocking dams and reservoirs by the state and federal water agencies.

For the sixth year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fall Midwater Trawl Survey (FMWT) has found zero Delta Smelt in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The slender 2 to 3 inch fish that smells like cucumber was once the most abundant fish in the Delta. The smelt, found only in the Delta, is considered an indicator species that shows the relative health of the imperiled estuary.  

The results of the survey were summed up and analyzed in a memorandum from James White, environmental scientist for the CDFW’s Bay Delta Region, to Erin Chappell, Regional Manager Bay Delta Region, on Dec. 29, 2022: Memorandum: 2022 FMWT Annual Fish Abundance and Distribution.

According to White, the 2022 abundance index was zero and “continues the trend of no catch in the FMWT since 2017.” No Delta Smelt were collected from any stations during the four month survey from Sept.-Dec. 2022.

“An absence of Delta Smelt catch in the FMWT is consistent among other surveys in the estuary,” White wrote. “The Enhanced Delta Smelt Monitoring (EDSM) survey of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) caught 3 Delta Smelt among 61 sampling days (between 9/6 and 12/15) comprised of 1,997 tows.” 

The decline of the Delta’s pelagic species, including three once-abundant fish species pursued by anglers, has been catastrophic since the State Water Project went into operation in 1967. Between 1967 and 2020, the state’s Fall Midwater Trawl abundance indices, a measure of relative abundance for striped bass, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, splittail and threadfin shad, have declined by 99.7, 100, 99.96, 67.9, 100, and 95 percent, respectively, according to the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA).

Meanwhile, populations of winter, fall, late fall and spring-run Chinook salmon continue to plummet. A record-low number of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon fry migrated downriver from Redding to Red Bluff on the Sacramento River this year, according to preliminary data collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Red Bluff Diversion Dam.   

An estimated 158,764 fry (baby salmon) made it from below Keswick Dam to Red Bluff in 2022, compared to an average number of 1.3 million winter Chinook salmon. This is the second consecutive year that the service reported alarmingly low numbers of Chinooks.

In 2021, an estimated 557,652 winter Chinook made it downriver to Red Bluff, a year when low, warm water, spurred by water diversions to irrigators, caused massive mortality in the fry.

The spring-run Chinook salmon on Butte Creek, considered the last viable population of naturally spawning Chinooks in the Sacramento River watershed, has also been met with disaster. 

An estimated 19,773 out of the more than 21,580 fish total that returned to spawn in the Butte County stream perished before spawning. Only an estimated 1,807 adults survived to spawn in a year with a record return of fish, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The fish perished from disease in the crowded, warm water conditions on the creek that developed before PG&E released colder water into the creek, under pressure from conservationists and anglers.

The Sacramento fall run-Chinook salmon, the driver of West Coast salmon fisheries, is also in very poor shape. Preliminary estimates of returns  of adult returns of adult salmon to the Sacramento Basin were only 61,845 last year, according to state officials. Less than 7,000 two-year-old jacks returned, the third lowest return in the last 30 years. 

The state and federal fishery managers, in developing salmon fishing regulations for Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon on the ocean and Central Valley rivers, base their modeling forecasts every year on the returns of the two-year-old jacks. Anglers are looking at reduced salmon fishing seasons and possible closures this year; the details will be worked out at the upcoming meetings at the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) and the California Fish and Game Commission. 
Add Your Comments
We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!


$40.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.


Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network