Chico Enterprise Record Editorial: Be skeptical of water promises

C-WIN's Tom Stokely gets an endorsement in this editorial, which was preceded by an article below The editorial is below and  at

The article is located below and at: "Fish among lost and found among talks at AquAlliance conference"

Our view: A conference last week in Chico served as a reminder that if an area loses its water rights, it loses much more than that.

If history has taught us anything about water in California, it's that everybody should be extremely skeptical when somebody who wants to take your water says, "Don't worry."

That point was driven home again last week in Chico at a two-day water conference hosted by AquAlliance.

Water managers and biologists spoke about promises made and promises broken. Despite assurances that fisheries and river ecosystems would not be harmed, stories about the health of the Trinity River, Mono Lake, San Joaquin River and more prove otherwise.

Those examples are important for us in the north state to remember. After all, we have water. Most of the state does not. People on the outside see water flowing down the river and see dollar signs. They hear about our massive underground aquifer and think of it as water going to waste.

State and federal water managers trying to craft a delta conservation plan or trying to compensate for water lost through court cases would like to tap into our water. They say, of course, that the north state would not be harmed, that fish and soils would not suffer in the least.

That is, of course, what they said about the Owens Valley and other more recent examples, such as the Trinity River. We should be careful about not falling for the same promises.

Imagine a north state with significantly less water. It would cut into agriculture production, which is a driving force in our economy. Green rice fields and almond orchards could become fallow dirt.

Less water also would mean fewer visitors — and ecotourism is a growing force in our economy, whether it's canoeing and kayaking, salmon fishing, birdwatching or people visiting farms and wineries.

The natural beauty of the north state is what draws many people to settle here. Shipping more water south could detract from the unique natural setting.

And don't try to convince us that could never happen. We've seen it too often — and people spend years trying to pick up the pieces.

Tom Stokely, for example, has fought for the Trinity River watershed for decades. He spoke at last week's conference about his long fight. The federal government decided in the 1960s that it would ship a good portion of the Trinity River's flow east, over mountains and into the Sacramento Valley through a series of tunnels and reservoirs rather than let all of that water flow into the ocean north of Eureka.

That brought more water to "our" river (so more could be sent to San Joaquin Valley farmers) but nearly killed "their" river.

Because of the efforts of North Coast Indian tribes and people like Stokely, some water has been restored to the Trinity. The river's legendary salmon and steelhead runs have made a comeback. There is, however, a long way to go. They would like to see all water stay in the Trinity River watershed. It's a lifelong fight., auto; border-top-left-radius: 10px; border-top-right-radius: 10px; border-bottom-right-radius: 10px; border-bottom-left-radius: 10px; box-shadow: rgb(150, 150, 150) 5px 5px 5px; -webkit-box-shadow: rgb(150, 150, 150) 5px 5px 5px; "> It's worth remembering that people in Trinity County, or Mono County or along the San Joaquin River corridor didn't have much say in the matter. The government just said, "This is what we're doing." We all need to be vigilant if we hear something similar about our water.


Fish lost and found among talks at AquAlliance conference
CHICO — While much of the discussion at AquAlliance's water conference Thursday and Friday was about major waterways and big-picture fish concerns, it was the lesser-known places for fish and critters that Paul Maslin was asked to explore.

In recent year Maslin has worked with the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve, but in the 1990s he was a professor at Chico State University and studied seasonal streams.

It was 1994 when the winter-run salmon was listed as endangered, and salmon suspected to be winter-run were spotted in Mud Creek.

Maslin reported the findings to the Department of Fish and Game and began a research project with help from four students.

The conclusion was that wildlife happens, even in a place thought to be just a ditch.

The group looked at creeks, many which seasonally ran dry, in 33 tributaries leading to the Sacramento River. Many were considered drainage canals by local property owners.

Over four years, the study found fish in such waterways as far as 12 kilometers (about 71Ž2 miles) from the river.

The numbers were "trivial" compared to the number of fish on the river, but the results also indicated the fish were fatter when compared to fish in other waterways, Maslin said. DNA samples also confirmed they were winter-run fish.

Maslin said his group documented about two dozen fish species, and more than 90 percent of them were native.

What was also fascinating were the species of chorus frogs, Western toads and spadefoot toads that reproduced in these areas.

Insects were also found to be "specialists" of perennial streams, creatures that have a short lifecycles and can snap back after dry waterways are refilled.

"Organisms find a way of using available habitat by having a lifecycle with resting eggs or being migratory," he explained.

Looking back

Other very timely topics were explored at the conference, which had about 75 attendees Thursday at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s Big Room.

Some of the speakers talked about historic bad decisions along waterways that contributed to problems with fish and the environment today.

Felix Smith had a career of 35 years as a Fish and Wildlife biologist and was involved with public trust issues long before major decisions on Mono Lake.

The public trust doctrine is the source of many lawsuits, and includes litigation to protect species and resources for the public.

Smith also talked about decisions made in the 1950s to divert water from the San Joaquin River.

"We got a memo that Fish and Wildlife Service could not protest for the needs of salmon on the San Joaquin River because all of the water was necessary for ag," Smith said.

Half a century later, billions of dollars are proposed to reintroduce salmon and habitat along that waterway.

Smith went on to describe what he considers other public trust violations he witnessed during this career, and said there are no "statute of limitations" for filing suits for past violations.

He now advocates corrections to past damage to wildlife, proof that corrections are working, and continued monitoring.

Tom Stokely, of California Water Impact Network, talked about a "trail of broken promises" on the Trinity River.

In the 1960s water from the Trinity River was diverted to the Sacramento River, and at that time local county leaders were promised that local demands would be met and fish would not be harmed, Stokely said.

The Whiskeytown Lake dedication included a visit by President John F. Kennedy. The dam was lauded for preventing the waste of water by letting water run to the sea, Stokely said.

Almost immediately after dams on the Trinity River were built, sediment filled pools, and temperatures became harmful to fish, he continued.

Work began in the early 1970s to talk about increased water flows, but then the state experienced severe drought and the topic was stalled, he said.

Lawsuits and laws followed for decades, and in 2000, with a lot of effort by the Hoopa Valley Tribe, it looked like things were on the road for improvement, he said. But currently biological opinions have been going back and forth.

What needs to happen, Stokely said, is for water deliveries that include water from the Trinity to be eliminated. Also, storage in the Trinity system needs to be set at a point that can withstand a drought, or fish will die, he said.

The topics were part of a discussion on how to move forward on these issues in the future., auto; border-top-left-radius: 10px; border-top-right-radius: 10px; border-bottom-right-radius: 10px; border-bottom-left-radius: 10px; box-shadow: rgb(150, 150, 150) 5px 5px 5px; -webkit-box-shadow: rgb(150, 150, 150) 5px 5px 5px; ">  Staff writer Heather Hacking can be reached at 896-7758, and followed on Twitter @HeatherHacking.

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