CA Tribes and EJ Groups file Comments on Water Voluntary Agreements

For Immediate Release: 2/9/23

Contact: Brian Smith, 415-320-9384

Stanford, CA – A coalition of California Tribes and Bay-Delta Environmental Justice groups submitted comments on 2/8/23 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 comments were filed with the State Water Board in Sacramento by 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. This same coalition filed a civil rights complaint with the federal EPA against the State Water Board in December 2022.

The VA comments begin 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.”

Among the concerns outlined in the comments letter

  • 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. 

Statements by Coalition Members

Malissa Tayaba, Vice Chair, Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians
Our ancestral homelands span Sacramento, El Dorado, Amador, Sutter, Yolo, Placer, and Yuba counties. 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.

Gary Mulcahy, Government Liaison, Winnemem Wintu Tribe
(On the coalition’s EPA civil rights filing.)
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. 

Dillon Delvo, Executive Director, Little Manila
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.

Artie Valencia, Community Organizer, Restore the Delta
Recreational users and fishermen who depend on the fish here are particularly affected by harmful algal blooms. 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.

Morning Star Gali, Ajumawi band of the Pit River Tribe in Northeastern California, Save California Salmon
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. 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

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