Today I attended a rally on the steps of the Sacramento State House hosted by advocates for the California State Water Resources Control Board’s recent decision to mandate 40-50% of the Sierra Nevada snowpack to flow uninhibited to the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta in order to restore sinking salmon populations as the native cutthroat and steelhead species near extinction.
The rally was in reaction to a well-funded (in large part by local tax dollars) and well-organized rally put on by opponents to the measure, namely Democrat Adam Gray, Assemblyman from California’s 21st District, Republican Congressman Jeff Denham and a gaggle of other local Republican officials.
As the opposition has gained steam, forcing the Control Board to delay its two-day deliberation to allow further negotiation, here we were, a small group of a dozen or so environmentalists and a couple journalists.
As Peter Drekmeier of the Tuolumne River Trust spoke about fairness between industrial and municipal allocation and nature, school marching bands were warming up, blaring dark and ominous brass tones like an invading army.
Men in suits and pointed shoes walked by snickering, seemingly aware that in capitalism, capital usually wins.
A makeshift Sierra Club banner blew in a gust to the ground as a leader of the club’s regional chapter spoke at the podium about water intensive crops grown almost exclusively for export have disrupted the natural balance of our region and more busloads of farmers, families and business interests crossed the western lawn to their rally carrying signs equating water with their own livelihoods.
It was an intimidating juxtaposition and I began to worry just how much jeopardy the favorable ruling from the Control Board and the salmon themselves were in.
The encapsulating moment of the rally, the distillation of this entire fight came as Morning Star Gali, an activist and member of the Pit River Tribe, spoke at the podium about protection the health of our rivers and recalling “Water is Life,” a common refrain during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests of 2016. While explaining how her children were unable to swim in the river this summer due to e.Coli levels exacerbated by the limited flow, a farmer, a white middle-aged man in dirty jeans and a plaid shirt walked between the podium and our group of onlookers carrying a homemade sign that read, “Spray Now for Brown Rot,” apparently advocating for pesticides to be used to combat a disease that plagues peach and almond crops in the Central Valley.
“Don’t believe it,” he shouted over the indigenous leader. “Stealing our water!”