Water policy protest hits Little Pocket: Dozens demonstrate “2nd California Water Summit” outside the Westin Hotel
Demonstrators from as far north as Lake Shasta and from as far south as the Los Angeles area converged on the sidewalk on Riverside Boulevard in front of the Westin Hotel on Monday and Tuesday mornings. Their cause: Water is a human right and it should not be controlled by those with money and power. Meanwhile, inside the hotel was the “2nd California Water Summit” in which government officials and private investors converged to talk about water policy. But the cost to get in was $1,495 for the four-day summit and many of the demonstrators, who were from various Native American tribes, have been feeling left out of discussions such as these for too long.
“Fight, fight for your rights. Fight, fight for water rights,” they chanted in the Little Pocket neighborhood, as inside the hotel investors and governmental officials discussed how $7.5 billion can be distributed through the state due to the passage of the Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Act of 2014. The Act, which signals “investments in water” and the “long-term sustainable supply and delivery of that water are critical to California’s future,” was a benchmark of success deemed by the Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown Jr. administration.
The supporting organization for the conference, West Coast Infrastructure Exchange, “was created by Governors and Treasurers of the West Coast states (California, Oregon, and Washington) and the Premier of British Columbia to promote the type of new thinking necessary to solve out infrastructure crisis. Its board consists of senior representatives of the Governors and Treasurers of the member states and the Executive Director of Partnerships British Columbia.”
According to the event website, funding from the $7.5 billion statewide water bond will “create a multitude of new project opportunities and redefine the way California state and local governments use and invest in solutions to address the water crisis; and fund these new water infrastructure projects … Only stakeholders intimately aware of the latest insights, lessons learned, and how to maximize project fundability from successfully (public and privately) funded water projects will succeed in this climate.”
Those very words of exclusivity and ownership surrounding every living thing’s basic need – water – was the very thrust of the protestors’ spirit.
Spokesperson Caleen Sisk, chief and spiritual leader of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, resides near Lake Shasta and discussed the purpose of the protest as follows:
“We feel that it’s unfair to hold the water meetings and exclude most of the interested parties that invest in people. Especially the tribes, they have not talked about California tribal water rights. They are talking about senior water rights and rights before 1914 and they have excluded the talks about the native California people’s water rights and to hold it here, at the Westin, is out of the way, excluded. It costs $1,500 to get in there to attend the meetings and they had a limited number of people in there who could register, so it’s not an open registration even if you had $1,500. There was a cutoff date you had to know about and they’re going to be discussing the $7.5 billion water programs for Prop. 1, which includes Shasta Dam raise, the tunnels. Most people want to restore the Delta, the fisheries, Golden Gate salmon, and the tribes should have a place on that agenda. Tribes or environmentalists should be heard about digging up the Delta.”
At the protest, members from the Winnemem Wintu, Pomo, Wailaki tribes were present as well as Hawaiians who stood in solidarity with those concerned about the delivery of water. Living near Lake Shasta, a source of water for the Sacramento River, Caleen said she’s particularly concerned about how water is distributed because of the salmon. “The salmon have to live in the Delta and if they are planning on diverting all the water from the Delta, which the tunnels can do, then the salmon can die.
Lake Shasta is very low and hasn’t recovered and it is still being drained. It was at 33 percent (of its capacity) earlier and it will probably be a lot less. The river is full, the Sacramento River. That water comes from the north to fill that river and that water is going down south through the aqueducts to agribusiness farms.
“Our biggest message is that the California people, the good-hearted people, have to start paying attention to what’s going on. They have to start relying on information that is outside the government and so far we’ve been trained to believe the government will take care of us and deliver the water the way they need to. I think people need to wake up and see this is not a fight between salmon and water. This is not a fight between L.A. and Northern California because the projection of the water that’s going to be there is for five new communities in the desert, for two new fracking mines and the rest of it will be brokered.
“I think that (the general public) could wake up and they need to wake up, but I don’t know if they will. We’re just a little minion tribe. We’re not considered scientists, but generations of our people have been here and we know what the weather is. We live the weather. We don’t live in an artificial community. We know when the grass turns brown. We know when the flowers come up. We know that the flower is supposed to be there and what the flower means in relation to the salmon that is coming up river. Most people don’t know what water tastes like anymore.”
Another one of the protestors, Dan Bacher, has been writing about water issues for many years for such websites as Daily Kos, Alternet, the California Progress Report, and for such print publications such as the Sacramento News and Review. He is also the editor of the Fish Sniffer magazine. He’s currently working on a critical book about Governor Brown and his environmental policies, which is expected to be released within the next year. “It’s going to be about his environmental policies. It will show a picture of the oil spill, and right under it there will be a bunch of dead fish and a dried up lake.”
As an environmentalist, a writer and a lover of fishing, Dan visits many lakes, which he says are currently full. “Rancho Seco lake is full. Lake Valley reservoir; Fuller Lake was brim full last Friday (June 26). I went to Union Reservoir on the Stanislaus River. It was the highest I’ve ever seen it. Rollins Lake on the Bear River is full. Water agencies that planned ahead – that practiced conservation – they were able to bump release the minimum stream flows to keep the fish going during the drought. The ones that squandered their water, sent it south in 2013, 2014, and again this year. I did an investigation and found they were filling Southern California reservoirs with the water they stole from Folsom even though they knew we were in the worst-ever drought.
“The media talks like these are separate projects. The tunnels are not a separate project. The tunnels project is designed in conjunction with the Shasta Dam bridge. One facilitates the other. “They’re trying to build twin tunnels and send (water) to the agricultural folks in Southern California. They need storage, so they are going to raise the Shasta dam. Our argument is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense because if you don’t have any water, you don’t have any water to store. You can build the tunnels, but it isn’t going to create the water. But Brown is committed to this anyway. I think he’s betting on having wetter winters ahead and also hoping the people are stupid and don’t wake up and don’t realize you can’t create something out of nothing.”