Water Is Life in Drought Stricken California
Long term drought conditions in California are dramatically demonstrating that water is life. The drought threatens our water supply and water quality statewide. Climate change has pushed us to the edge of a life and death fight over water. As our reservoirs dry out and our over-pumped ground water sinks deeper and deeper, California struggles to find a sustainable path into our water future. San Joaquin valley rivers all drain first into the San Joaquin river, then to the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta and into the San Francisco Bay flowing into the sea through the Golden Gate. In California, drought means empty rivers and full canals. Crops may grow, but at the expense of increasing species extinction.
Water is Life for California Tribes
The restoration of California rivers faces the challenge of changing the legal system that established water rights in the interests of settler land owners first and foremost. Our pioneer ancestors killed and displaced California’s indigenous tribes from lands they had lived on for thousands of years without upsetting the natural balances that created the diversity and abundance that the new settlers found here. Under our private property oriented state, California created the giant industrial farming system that now feeds the country and the world. In the process, California’s rivers have been diverted and drained almost dry, contributing to the water shortages and pollution that climate change now has elevated into an immediate crisis for everyone.
Restoring California’s great rivers will not succeed without coming to terms with the injustices committed against the First Nation tribes. The tribes are the ones who know how to live in harmony with nature. The role of the Karuk and Yurok tribes in leading the campaign to take down four dams on the Klamath river in northern California and restore over 400 miles of salmon habitat shows that we need the tribes understanding and advocacy to successfully restore our rivers.
Private Property Rights Override Our Balance with Nature
When European settlers took over the state, the land and water was privatized, the indigenous populations killed off and pushed aside. The transition was genocidal and violent. Thousands of tribal people still inhabit the state and their populations are growing. Many tribes have not received federal recognition and many lack rights to water.
California’s tribes should have first water rights restored to them everywhere in the state as the first step towards finding our way to a more sustainable way of life. The economic and political influence of California’s billionaire agribusiness carries with it the legacy of the European conquest which we still refuse to face up to. While the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and other environmental legislation have made important inroads in the interest of preserving some threatened species, the rights of the rivers and the earth to a balanced and sustainable existence has yet to be established in law.
Restoring water rights to the tribes of California will bring them and their interests into the conversation on how to build a sustainable water system that takes all stake holders interests into account. It is a good first step to correct the injustices of our past and it places private property rights in their proper place, subordinate to the over riding need to live in balance with nature. As climate change gains everyone’s attention with the growing threats from wild fires, rising sea levels, and declining water quality, we must all of us, including the tribes, pull together to find new workable solutions.