Round Valley Indian Tribes joins effort to craft a two-basin solution for Eel and Russian Rivers

(Image: Screenshot pottervalleyproject.org)

Two-basin solution sought for Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project relicensing

News Release

Round Valley Indian Tribes

The Round Valley Indian Tribes have signed an agreement to join with water users in the Eel River Basin and Russian River Basin to seek a two-basin solution for the relicensing of the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project. The partnership includes California Trout, Mendocino Inland Water and Power Commission, Sonoma Water, and the County of Humboldt. The Round Valley Indian Tribes joined this partnership because they are committed to exploring a regional solution that meets the interests and concerns of all water users in both basins.

Round Valley Indian Tribes President James Russ said: “The process won’t be easy, but the Tribes are committed to working with our partners in exploring all options that might work in both basins.” 

For over a century, PG&E has operated the Project under a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The Project diverts significant amounts of Eel River water through a hydroelectric facility and into the Russian River basin. The Project’s dam and reservoir infrastructure impair salmon fish habitat and passage. The diversion of large quantities of water from the Eel River and the destruction of miles of habitat are major factors in the decline of the Eel River and the Coho salmon, chinook salmon, and steelhead trout it supports. The challenge of this collaborative process is to find a way to address the degradation of the Eel River fishery while at the same time considering the interests of those in the 

Russian River Basin who rely on the diversions for their water supply. The Tribes are committed to meeting this challenge. 

The Round Valley Indian Tribes’ history underscores the importance of a healthy Eel River to their survival. The Eel River is intertwined with the spiritual, cultural, and economic well-being of the Tribes. Fishing is imperative as the tribal community suffers high rates of poverty and lack of economic opportunities, largely due to its mistreatment by the United States and State of California. In 1854, settlers arrived in Round Valley, home to the Yuki people since time immemorial. In response to conflict between the Yuki and settlers, the United States set aside all of Round Valley as a reservation for Indian purposes in 1858. 

In the 1860s, U.S. soldiers armed with rifles and mounted on horseback marched men, women and children more than 100 miles over the mountains to Round Valley. Only 277 of the 461 tribal people that began the march survived. The elders, children and sick were left to behind to parish alone. Overall, the federal government forcibly relocated several tribes to Round Valley including: Nomlacki, Wylaki, Lassik, Sinkyone, Pomo, Wappo, Concow Maidu, Colusa, and Achumawi. Within a few years, the Yuki people and the forcibly relocated tribes were confined to a small portion of the valley. Today, the descendants of these tribes have adapted to living together on one reservation, referred to as the Round Valley Indian Reservation. They remain resilient. 

The Round Valley Indian Tribes have Eel River water rights that were reserved to the Tribes when the Reservation was created, long before diversions of Eel River water began. In 1873, Congress used the natural flows of the Eel River to expand the Round Valley Reservation’s northern, eastern and western boundaries, thus establishing “the privilege of fishing in said streams” as reserved for the Tribes. These water rights have never been quantified through a formal adjudication process in a court of law. However, the Tribes are open to discussing the role of its federal water rights in a two-basin solution related to the Potter Valley Project.

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