Danielle Virgil Masten

By Danielle Virgil Masten is the Chairwoman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe in Northern California.

The H&N recent editorial (“A Poor Future Beckons Without Water Settlement”) conflates the need for water settlements with Sen. Ron Wyden’s flawed bills to ratify three specific agreements among various parties.

One of those agreements, the so called Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) should be alarming to anyone who prizes the sovereign values of tribal self governance and self determination, particularly the five federally recognized tribes in the Klamath River Basin in California.

Your editorial ignores California, where more than half of the Klamath River Basin lies. The Hoopa Valley Tribe is one of only two Indian tribes (both in California) who legally own the Indian allocation right to 50 percent of the Klamath/Trinity fishery, resources that are protected by federal law. The KBRA, by guaranteeing an oversized right to divert Upper Klamath Lake water into the Klamath Irrigation Project, is a death sentence to the fishery resources of the Klamath, whether or not PacifiCorp’s dams are removed.

In 2014, the Bureau of Reclamation rejected pleas of the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes that additional water be released from Trinity Reservoir in order to augment the insufficient flows in the mainstem Klamath River (caused by the irrigation diversions in Oregon). Instead, Reclamation hesitated, then when the deadly ich pathogen started killing fish, Reclamation released emergency slugs of water that proved to be too late and too little.

California’s biggest irrigation district, Westlands Water District, also sued Reclamation and won a ruling this month saying that Reclamation had no authority to supplement Klamath water flows with additional water from the Trinity. That Band Aid won’t stick; the court believes Trinity Reservoir serves California’s Central Valley Project.

Our fisheries scientists warn that the water diversion amounts of the KBRA reflect a political choice, not the science of what’s surplus to fish needs. Unlike others, we believe that the federal dollars that are supposed to restore the Basin don’t exist. Until the Basin comes together on a solution, Congress should not touch this.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe is not the only California tribe that has declined to approve the KBRA. Nevertheless, Sen. Wyden’s bills propose to override our decisions and deprive our fishery of the federal protection required under law. See KBRA § 15.3.9.

The H&N editorial should call for reopening and fixing the flawed Klamath Agreements instead of seeking federal legislation that will dewater the river and take away the fishing based subsistence guaranteed to our Tribe by federal law.

Danielle Vigil Mastenis the chairmwoman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe in Northern California.

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