Tribal water rights save rivers and communities

Posted: Apr 9, 2013

Written by

HAYLEY HUTT, Indian Country

Recent news of the Klamath Tribe’s victory in a water rights battle after 38 years of court proceedings came as no surprise to the Hoopa Valley Tribe. Hoopa knows that tribal water rights and tribal trust are the most powerful tools for restoring the West’s salmon rivers. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) only prevents extinction, but tribal trust goes further by requiring restoration of abundance.

Ismail Serageldin, former vice president of the World Bank in 1999 said, "The wars of the next century will be about water." In Indian Country, many of the battles of the last century have been over water, as tribes battle to retain fish populations for sustenance and to retain their cultures. Now, as population growth and global warming threaten the nations water supplies, states like California and Oregon are ramping up the pressure to overturn laws protecting fisheries and rivers so that they can divert more water to thirsty desert cities and farms. But conservation could serve the same purpose.

Tribal water rights coupled with fisheries science has been a successful combination in restoring salmon on the Trinity River, the Klamath River’s largest tributary. The same combination could work on the Klamath too.

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