Tribal representatives express concerns over Sites Reservoir

CHICO — The Sites Project Authority received criticism Thursday as it conducted a public hearing and presentation on the history and variations of the Sites Reservoir project planned for Colusa County.

Environmental Planning Commissioner Ali Forsythe led the online meeting with a presentation on the project, how it came to be and what changes have been made over the years it has been in the works.

A half-hour was slotted for questions immediately after the presentation followed by an hour of public comment. A court reporter attended the zoom meeting to keep track of the comments in an official format. Once public questions and input began, almost all of the speakers shared criticism for the project with many asking that the group not go forward with the project in any capacity.

Two representatives from two different tribes with land that would be used for the project spoke out against the project. Forsythe said during her presentation that the system for reaching out to the different tribes in the area came down to a written letter, an email and a follow-up phone call adding that only two of the 14 tribes contacted responded and began working with the project authority.

Melissa Tayaba, vice chairwoman for the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, spoke out against the creation of the reservoir.  Tayaba said the delta being utilized for the project is being diminished.

“It is being further diminished along with its cultural and traditional resources that tribes have utilized from the delta for food, medicine, transportation, shelter, clothing, ceremony and traditional lifeways from the beginning of time,” Tayaba said. “Additional diversions from the Sacramento River watershed will exaggerate an already damaged and diminishing delta ecosystem and estuary and our tribe’s ties to our homelands.”

Tayaba added that her tribe had not been consulted throughout the planning of the project.

“Our waterways must be managed holistically,” Tayaba said. “In addition, true and meaningful tribal consultation has not occurred. In fact, my tribe was not consulted.”

Morning Star Gali, a tribal organizer with Save California Salmon, also expressed concerns regarding the project as well as the lack of authority working with the affected tribes.

“I’m very concerned with the lack of proper consultation with the tribes that will be affected within the area the Sites will flood to the tribal cemeteries, the ceremonial sites and the three creeks and will further degrade salmon runs, harming an important food source.”

Gali asked for more specific details as to how the group is reaching out and attempting to work with the tribes. Forsythe broke down some of the ways the authority has performed outreach.

“The authority, both in 2020 and 2021 has reached out to 14 tribes under Assembly Bill 52 requirement,” Forsythe said. “In that outreach, we received responses from two tribes indicating that they wanted to enter into discussions and consultations. So we are in discussions and consultations with those two tribes and that’s, I think, been really good discussions with one tribe in particular. We have pretty regularly scheduled meetings talking about the resources in the footprint.”

Forsythe said the talks have been focused on addressing burial areas adding that the authority is trying to be proactive in the matter.

One commenter wrote in asking that the authority address concerns over the Sites Reservoir potentially causing seepage or polluting the groundwater.

“I’d say right now we are of course designing the dam facilities to meet (Division of Safety of Dams) requirements which means that generally, we would expect very little seepage out of the dam,” Forsythe said.

Other concerns ranged from salmon habitats, water usage and how the meetings are being conducted and whether or not enough people are getting a chance to provide comment on the project.

The Sites Reservoir is a proposed dam and water project primarily in Colusa County that is funded through various means such as state and federal government as well as local agencies throughout California.

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