William A. Gralnick
Notice today the question mark. Last week we looked at the micro-problem. Today we will deal with one of the many macro-problems. We will see the issue is what the need for water does to people. It can produce, prejudice, discrimination, and at least in some form of the meaning, genocide. Since the presentation is from the western US, let’s start with this dictum:
“Steal my horse, carry off my wife, but don’t touch my water.”
Then there’s this one, “First in use, first in right.”
Ever since the American frontier reached the great bend of the Missouri, water—or the lack of it
Let’s uncloak the mystery. We are speaking of a hundred plus year long battle in the Klamath Valley between the ranchers and farmers on one side and the Klamath Native American tribes on the other.
First the where. The Klamath Basis is in northern California and encompasses part of southern Oregon. It is a 1,500 square mile area that for centuries has been the home of the Klamath tribes. It’s lake and rivers have sustained these tribes both spiritually and bodily for generations.
The initial problem began with the breaking of Federal treaties and leases by settlers depriving the tribes of their rightful lands. Then came climate change. The region, including the Klamath Basin is suffering the worst drought in modern history. This past summer was the hottest since records have been kept. The Kalmath Lake, which is large but shallow, is literally evaporating and taking with it the sucker fish so important to the social, cultural, and economic lives of the tribes.
These two quotes lay out the sentiments on both sides:
The Tribes: “If the fish die, the people die.”
The ranchers: We should have finished the job the first time.”
And the fish are dying. From a lake that held millions, the government estimates a remaining population of 24,000. ‘pretty stark.
Things got so bad that the government had to breach the treaty with the farmers and stop their taking of water entirely. The ripple effect on the ability to grow crops, fish, hunt is destroying the local economy and is impacting the availability of certain foods.
This story repeats itself with the Yurok tribe. Replace sucker fish with salmon. The damming of the rivers he had a drastic impact on the salmon’s ability to spawn. Thirty-four thousand salmon died last season. Finally after extended negotiations shutes were cut into the dams creating a path for the salmon to get up stream. If it works remains to be seen. A Canadian biologist speaking of a similar situation in northwest Canada said that last season 24 salmon returned to spawn. That’s not 2,400 or 22,400, or 225,000. That’s count’em 24, a littel more than twice the number of fingers on your hands. That’s beyond critical. That’s a crisis.
Probably the most well known and dramatic impact of climate change has been at Lake Mead in Las Vegas. It sits below the massive Hoover Dam. This lake, which now looks like a half empty bath tub with an ominous ring reminding all to see where the lake’s water used to be, provides water under a compact between three states. That’s not only water for farming but for family life–drinking, bathing, recreation. Mother Nature took the water. The only way it gets more is if we find a way to get Mother Nature to give it back.
Thanks to CNN, the Cultural Social.org organization, Al Jazzera, and NPR for covering the disaster on a continuing basis.
Meanwhile the tribes and the government are involved in trying through education programs to stop the racism, create understanding, and at least settle down the social cultural heat. What are they up against? I’ll leave you with a stunning quote by legal scholar Felix Cohen. He observed this:
“The Indian plays much the same role in our American society that the
Jews played in Germany. Like the miner’s canary, the Indian marks
the shifts from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and
our treatment of Indians, even more than our treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall in our democratic faith” (“Water War/American Heritage Magazine). Racism in America my friends is not only a black/white thing.
Bill is stuck. Is there more to say? Actually yes, As Rachel says, “Watch this space!”