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Tribal Participation in State Water Planning: Network Conference Call

Atta Stevenson, Laytonville Rancheria, President of Inter Tribal Council of California – State Water Planning Process

Water is increasingly an issue in many regions, whether it is tribal rights, access, drinking scarcity, or healthy river flows. Atta has been deeply involved in the California state water planning process as a tribal participant. She discussed the importance of tribal involvement, how the state process works, and water planning tools for tribes.

Atta is part of three groups involved with water planning. The development of the 2005 CA Water Plan was the first time tribes were invited to participate in water planning. The CA state government agencies sent numerous mailings to tribes, inviting their participation, but no tribes responded. As a result, the Intertribal Council of California (ITCC) was contacted by the CA Dept. of Water Resources to learn how to speak to tribes. ITCC did outreach to get tribes from throughout California to be involved.

They brought tools to the table to bring public education and cultural competency to agencies (BIA, DWR, other state agencies). They wanted to make sure there were direct tribal representatives with water use experience (rather than non-tribal attorneys or only EPA personnel). The state is planning long-term (20-200 years ahead) while the tribes are typically looking 5-10 years out for lawsuit/legal reasons.

Lessons Learned in State Water Planning:

  • Take a Long-term Focus. ITCC is working with tribes to think long-term. They were surprised that tribes in general had no long term vision for tribes or traditional uses. As traditional people, Atta and other representatives understood the tremendous connection to water.
  • Take an Integrative and Cross-Media Approach. Land use and water use must be viewed together . With respect to agencies, this is why laws are haphazard — everything has been departmentalized into different areas (land, air, water, etc.).
  • As for her tribe, they migrate and are a seasonal people [so see the interconnections and an array of issues]. She lives in Mendocino County, the beginning of the redwoods. They have no long term scientific data on salinity of peninsulas and bays and the rising of sea level [and the effect on freshwater resources]. Relicensing of dams is another issue. The Trinity River and relicensing affects tribes, as much water used for agriculture. They work with FERC to ensure in-stream flow for fish, basketry plants [as a core traditional practice], and medicinal plants. Other concerns include stagnant water, and algae blooms that are dangerous to fish and humans.
  • Timber harvest plans can increase stream temperatures. Energy corridors can also increase heat and wind energy can change wind patterns (weather patterns, and fog). Water use can also affect abalone and migration of whales. And there are even questions for ecotourism — how does that affect traditional water uses?
  • They pushed for language in Water Plan to broadly help the environment.
  • Vineyards are a specialty crop — they are great drinkers of water and an invasive species. Their water group has also worked to educate nurseries about invasive species.
  • Supplement Science with Traditional Knowledge. ITCC also works to provide a tribal perspective vs. a scientific perspective (tribal needs and concerns are different and as valid as scientific). They pushed to incorporate traditional knowledge to supplement science and make sure they’re always at the table on science issues.
  • Create Templates For Tribes to Use [communications and analytical framework to comprehensively cover water planning issues to consider and include].