On Monday (October 31), a northwestern California-based Native American tribe filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration, claiming contractors decimated a river owing them millions.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe claimed the U.S. Department of the Interior didn’t follow laws requiring contractors to pay for habitat restoration projects to use the water.
The tribe alleges the Department owes it $340 million for restoration work conducted along the Trinity River, which flows through 12 miles of the tribe’s northern California reservation.
Since the 1950s, the river has been a primary water source for local dams, reservoirs, and canals, sending water south to farmers harvesting fruit, nut, and other produce.
The tribe claims that the federal government hadn’t consulted them on any of these decisions. But laws updated in the 1990s gave the tribe more control over changes to the river’s flow; an Obama-era law reversed some of those strides allowing temporary water contracts to become permanent.
In its lawsuit, the tribe alleges the contract awarded to the nation’s largest agricultural water district, Westland Water District, didn’t include requirements for habitat restoration payments.
The tribe also claims the river has become a “sick place” and desperately needs restoration.
Fisheries director for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, Mike Orcutt, explained, “An integral part of the life here is the Trinity River. That changed dramatically in the 1950s when Congress chose to dam up the river.”
Orcutt added, “We’ve been fighting for decades to right that wrong.”
However, a spokeswoman for Westlands’, Shelley Cartwright, noted the district pays a set fee to the restoration fund based on the amount of water it receives but said the district was reviewing the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was initially filed by the tribe during the Trump administration, but withdrew it, hoping to settle with the Biden administration.