Tribal Officials Urge Water Release Into Klamath River to Prevent Mass Fish Kill

Courtesy Hoopa Valley TribeChairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten and Tribal Council members took Bureau of Reclamation officials and Supervisor Ryan Sundberg on a boat down the Trinity River in Hoopa.
Courtesy Hoopa Valley Tribe
Chairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten and Tribal Council members took Bureau of Reclamation officials and Supervisor Ryan Sundberg on a boat down the Trinity River in Hoopa.


Dropping water levels and rising temperatures in the persistent California drought have tribal members concerned about a fish kill—and, some say, fish are already dying.

The Hoopa Tribe is pressing for a release of water from the Trinity River, which feeds the Klamath. Hundreds of tribal members from the northern coast of California, along with river conservationists, traveled to the state seat in Sacramento on August 19 to urge officials to reconsider their decision to stop pre-emptive water releases.

Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribal members joined with people from the Klamath Justice Coalition, coming by the busload, according to the Times-Standard.

It was the second attempt at confronting officials to try and get the message across. On August 11 others showed up in Redding, California, at a press conference on wildfires to ask U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell directly to authorize such a move.

Tribal members are looking for a release of Trinity River water out of Lewiston Dam, they said in a release. The Trinity is the Klamath River’s main tributary. They are worried about a fish kill on the scale of one that occurred in 2002, also for lack of water and a too-high temperature. Tens of thousands of otherwise healthy fish died that year, under very similar conditions.

“The Klamath fish kill of 2002 led to poor salmon returns devastating west coast fisheries for years afterward,” said Dania Colegrove, Hoopa Tribal member and activist with the conservation group Got Water, in a statement. “Since then tribes, scientists and the Department of Interior have worked together to avert fish kills by preventively releasing water during drought years.”

Many say they are already seeing dead fish. They fear that a release once that starts happening would not come in time to stop disease from spreading. Though Jewell met with the protesters after the press conference, she did not agree to release water.

“There is an opportunity to do emergency releases, if we see the temperature rise,” Jewell said to the group at the press conference, according to the Times-Standard. “We’ll make sure that people come out and there is an opportunity to see it. We are dealing with profound drought all over. We’re dealing with it in the Klamath. So, I’ll follow up. Also, I want you guys to understand the biggest issue is the lack of water.”

Two days later, though, Jewell sent a federal team to tour the river along with Hoopa Valley Tribe experts. On August 14, Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director David Murillo and Assistant Regional Director Pablo Arroyave toured the river. In addition the Humboldt County Fifth District Supervisor, Ryan Sundberg, added his voice to that of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council and Chairperson Danielle Vigil-Masten, calling for immediate water releases into the Trinity River, according to a release from the Hoopa Valley Tribe.

“It affects the economy throughout the county when the fish are threatened,” Sundberg said in the statement. “It’s a diverse County and a diverse Board of Supervisors, but everyone is united on this issue.”



Raid Targets Illegal Marijuana Farms Sapping Yurok’s Drought-Plagued Water Supply

Yurok TribeOne of the many illegal marijuana farms that federal agents uprooted in a raid on July 21.
Yurok Tribe
One of the many illegal marijuana farms that federal agents uprooted in a raid on July 21.



The drought in California is exacerbating the effect that illegal marijuana farms have on the Yurok ’s water supply, and on July 21 federal and state agencies raided several properties on or adjoining the reservation along the Klamath River.

The raid was conducted at Yurok officials’ request, the Los Angeles Times reported, and involved the California National Guard, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Justice’ North State Marijuana Investigation Team, and Yurok police. Operation Yurok, as it was called, was coordinated by the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Drug Enforcement Unit.

The Yurok are not the only ones contending with the effects of illegal pot grows on their lands. The Hoopa Tribe has been actively combating incursions as well.

RELATED: Hoopa Tribe Helps Destroy 26,600 Marijuana Plants Invading Sacred Land

Pot-Farm Raticide May Be Killing Spotted Owls; Hoopa Tribe Investigates

Even without the ongoing and worsening drought, the farms put a strain on Yurok life in a number of ways. Rat poison kills sacred fish and other animals, lower water levels become too warm and unhealthy for salmon to spawn in, and water pressure is just about nil on the reservation.

“They’re stealing millions and millions of gallons of water, and it’s impacting our ecosystem,” Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke said during the raid, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We can no longer make it into our dance places, our women and children can’t leave the road to gather. We can’t hunt. We can’t live the life we’ve lived for thousands of years.”

Not only that, but access to one sacred ceremonial site is blocked by a pot farm, O’Rourke told the Los Angeles Times. And growers have become brazen enough to trundle supplies to and from the farms in broad daylight.

“We are coming close to being prisoners in our own land,” O’Rourke said. “Everything we stand for, everything we do is impacted.”

Read Massive Raid to Help Yurok Tribe Combat Illegal Pot Grows