Today at the State Water Resources Control Board Meeting: The Hoopa Tribe (and other supporters) look for a clean water solution. The SWRCB looks for a way to sit back and listen and do exactly what the corporations told them to do. -- Save the River --
Admittedly I have not read the final decision from today for myself... yet. I just saw it floating around online that they decided to grant the "abeyance" so that Pacifi-Corp can continue not to do anything to help anyone in any way what so ever. And more fish will die and more people will get sick from the river and PacifiCorp will have one more year to apply for something they have no intention of doing only to withdraw that application at the last minute.
There's a lot behind the removal of the dams on the Klamath River so let me explain. Once upon a time there were a lot of rivers that ran through many beautiful places. They fed the land and the people. They were the center of life itself. Then came a bunch of people who thought "wow, look at all this water, we should use it the way we want to and generally try to make it bend to our will. Who cares what happens after that?" So they built dams.(1)
After a while the dams were no good. Algae grows. Fish die. People point out "hey, this whole destruction of the land might not exactly jive with the whole "ecosystem" thing that keeps the world from falling apart. Oh yeah, and remember how you thought you could supply everybody with all the water they needed ever to grow stuff? We're running out of it. Oh yeah and remember all that energy you were creating, at what cost? And remember how it's really not cost effective to get energy in this way anymore and there are lots of better more efficient ways to do it now? And you know, there are lots of ways to get energy that don't kill fish.
And then Warren Buffet bought some dams. Look, Warren does that thing where he writes letters about how rich people should take responsibility for their actions (by paying taxes or helping people) so when he bought these dams it was all "hey, maybe Warren will finally listen. Look Warren, these dams are really only 2% of the energy the PacifiCorp makes. Taking them down completely would be no real skin off your vast back. You're a reasonable man. Let's take the dams down."
Sometime around 2006 PacifiCorp filed to stat the process of obtaining a Clean Water Act permit for the dams on the Klamath River. This was the last step they needed for re licensing under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) process. And now every year PacifiCorp goes and pulls their application for their Clean Water Act certification because (and here's the loop hole) if they file, and then pull their file, they can get another year's extension. This has been happening for the last six years. So no dams get fixed, no dams come down, nobody takes responsibility for the devastation, some group of people sitting in front of the room go back to their jobs like nothing ever happened... until the next year. (2)
Why is this important? Granted it's a giant waste of time for the Board, every year they must listen to a 7 minute presentation from their advisers who tell them they should give PacifiCorp one more year and every year they do it knowing that the next year the same thing will happen again. Of course this ignores that as this process goes on and on, the levels of toxic algae are up to 3000 times what is considered safe for recreational contact and that the water is currently lethal to salmon. Even more telling, is that should the board choose to regulate PacifiCorp by moving forward with their certification (which they could not pass) this would push the process of dam removal forward right now, and not in 2020 when the current timeline runs out for this continued stalling tactic. And even more importantly - this isn't out of the question to ask the State Water Resources Board to do. In fact, this is what they are supposed to do. All of these are written laws and regulations that are required. The loop holes are just that, smarmy ways for smarmy people to be smarmy. The people who came to rally and to testify today are not asking for something that is unprecedented, they are asking for the board to "do their job."
But what about the Klamath Basin Restoration Act that all these people signed saying they would take down the dams? Didn't we already take care of this problem. Ehh, not really. And this may be where we have to agree to disagree. I have never agreed with the signing of the KBRA. The Hoopa Valley Tribe and many other tribes in the area did not sign the agreement, specifically because signing it was to the detriment of the rights of Indian Tribes and also to the rights of the fish and other life in the river. Part of the agreement takes away the rights of the fish and the Indian people to the water. It prioritizes irrigation and farmers and it denigrates the sovereignty of Indian tribes. It also denigrates the sovereignty of the fish. Because it refuses to protect them or speak for them. The "rights" to the water should also include the "rights" of the fish to their water and include the "rights" of the land and the ecosystem to the water. Oh, and it doesn't really take down the dams.
So today a group of people (Hupa, Yurok, Karuk and others) came out to testify in front of the State Water Resources Control Board to request that they deny the abeyance for PacifiCorp and instead move forward with this process, which will set in motion exactly what (according to the Board Chairman) all parties want -- the removal of the dams. It will also hold PacifiCorp responsible for the continued pollution and destruction that is happening with these dams right now, at this very moment, and will continue so long as this process is delayed.
I went and listened. My niece and nephew testified by asking the board to "do your jobs." They were clear and concise. My aunt and my mother (formidable women, if I do say so myself) also spoke. Our council woman testified about the importance of the water, the fish, and the rights of Indian peoples. She also told this beautiful story about how her daughter felt about the dams and what was happening with the water and her daughter said "I feel guilty." Guilty, she said, because she feels a real responsibility for the water and the fish and everything that is a part of life. Guilty, because we are responsible to this space, as it has been responsible for us.
It suddenly dawned on me as I was watching the properly concerned faces of the Board who were doing their best to listen to each and every testimony that in reality we just speak an entirely different language. I'm always spouting around about "worldview" and "epistemology" but the truth is, that's what it is. Our world is blue and green and runs silver with salmon. Our world is alive.
I thought of the late Vine Deloria, Jr. who I once heard say that the problem with our current, "modern" society is that "we live in a society of RIGHTS not RESPONSIBILITIES." This is my right, it is my right to be this way. Who has the most rights? Equal rights! We have just as much right as you do. And you hear it a lot when it comes to the dams and the water "But I have just as much right to this water as you do." "How can we go about this so that everyone has rights to the water? " "Who has the most rights to the water?" "What about equal rights to the water?"
But we don't think about our responsibilities and who or what we are responsible to. And this is what, according to Deloria, Jr., is a foundational building block of Indigenous societies. In Indigenous societies we are responsible for each other, but in addition we are responsible to everything because it is responsible to us. We don't fish the salmon because it is our right, we fish the salmon because they are a part of us. We fish the salmon, we hunt the deer, we are the salmon, we are the deer. If everything is filled with spirit, we are grateful to it. We care for it, it cares for us. The river is no different. So if something is destroying the river, if we are watching it slowly die in front of us, we will fight for the river not just because "we have a right to our river" but because we are responsible for it -- and if that means a little less irrigation and a little less sailing on pretty lakes -- that's what it means.
We are not in this place to live on top of it, we are here to live with it.
And so I thought about standing up and saying to the Board "what are you responsible for? And when you approve this abeyance and you allow PacifiCorp to continue to poison and destroy this area, what responsibility will you take for that? Because you will be responsible. You might not own that responsibility, you might not acknowledge it, but you will be responsible for every fish that struggles and dies, for every child that is pulled away from the water, for every tree that withers, for all of the destruction, that will be your responsibility."
There wasn't any time for additional comments, however, so I write it now here to put it out into the world. And maybe we can all start to feel that sense of responsibility, for the fish, for the water, for the land, for each other.
(1) I will grant "you" (the grand "you" assuming there may be some people who read this that say "hey, it wasn't exactly like that" -- okay, it wasn't EXACTLY like that. I'm sure there are lengthy reports about why dams were dams and what dams would do for people but there was also a lot of "but you know, we know better and the water is beneath us so let's build dams" going on too.
(2) And make no mistake, stuff happens. Stuff happens every single day that the dams are kept up. I quote here from a paper written by lawyer Marne Sussman on the Klamath Basin: The issues in the Klamath have also moved beyond the fish and become human health issues. Toxic liver damaging algal blooms in UKL deplete the dissolved oxygen and have been common place since the 1960s, but abnormally large blooms have been occurring with more and more frequency. Something must be done immediately in the Klamath to reverse the damage that has occurred from humans affecting natural ecosystems and diverting water to their own purposes.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, fan of "The Good Wife" and "The Walking Dead", who likes to go for long walks on long piers...
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