Drought: Charlie Toledo, Part Three: Aquifers

Drought: Charlie Toledo, Part Three: Aquifers

Charlie Toledo, Executive Director of the Suscol Intertribal Council in Napa, CA, spoke with me last week about the drought and the water situation in California. This is part three of that interview.

Charlie helped author the Watershed Development plan for Napa County in its seminal years, 1992-1995, and more recently serves on the State Low Income Oversight Board, a committee of the California Public Utilities Commission. 

For more than 30 years, she has served as peace activist, community organizer, and healer, dedicated to preserving Native American culture and building the cohesiveness of indigenous groups in the Napa area.

Part Three

Charlie: Now what’s happened is the underground aquifers in California, actually underground rivers, mostly fed and established by the Ice Age water melting, are empty. In Napa those aquifers are at Cuttings Wharf Road, out at the Avenues. Those aquifers have been used up. The headwaters, which is where the river starts in the area around Cortina Rancheria west of the town of Williams, is the headwaters for Putah Creek, one of the main water connections for the Bay Delta area. But the headwaters are going dry. They now get saltwater at a hundred feet.

Patricia: Where’s Putah Creek?

Charlie: Putah Creek starts up around Williams, which is northwest of Sacramento. Then Clear Lake is actually part of Putah Creek. Putah Creek feeds out of Clear Lake, comes down through Pope Valley and Chiles Valley and then at Rector Dam it turns over and goes into what is now known as Lake Berryessa. I think there’s seven creeks that go into Lake Berryessa. Putah Creek is the main one. We’re talking about the headwaters of Putah Creek, which is the main feeder to Berryessa, which is one of the largest feeders to the Delta Bay Water. I just got e-mails two weeks ago from my friends up in Mendocino County. Their headwaters of Eel River up in Round Valley are going dry. Up in Hoopa the Klamath headwaters are going dry. We’re talking about the major rivers. The Klamath River, the north fork of the Eel River, Putah Creek, the Russian River, same thing.

From County of Napa

You’ve got the headwaters where the rivers form, where the water starts. That’s a spring basically. Then you have the end of the river where the water reaches the ocean. Either way that water stops, at the headwaters or at ocean, that means the river is dying. Now the Colorado River, which is one of the main water supplies of New Mexico, Arizona and Los Angeles, ends in Mexico 90 miles from the ocean. They’ve been losing 10-20 miles a year for the last ten years. They’re expecting that the aquifers that supply Las Vegas are going to be dry in the next three years. They know this. I was at a tour of Hoover Dam. The guy who gave the tour of Hoover Dam said Las Vegas has three more years of water.

Patricia: What will happen then?

Charlie: I was at the UN in 2005 for Human Rights, Women’s Human Rights issues. As I was touring, there were some people from Japan whom we were orienting on how to work within the UN. There were no sessions at the time that I was giving them the tour, so I said “Let’s just go into this one, it’s on environmental water.” I said, “That’s my key area of interest, next to human rights.”

We went into this global conference. There were representatives from every country in the world. The presenters were representing agriculture, economy, environment, industry. There were four levels that they presented.

This hall was completely full with all the translators and all the people with their flags and countries that they represented. We were just in the peanut gallery, sitting there and listening, not in a position to talk. This guy was facilitating and all the big people were introducing themselves. There were probably at least a thousand people in this meeting.

The guy stood up who was chairing the meeting and said, “Well, after researching the last five years, we are on the verge of an eminent global water crisis.”

Then the guy from industry said, you know given all the industry and the technology, we are on the verge of an eminent global water crises.

Then the farming people said that the way that people are farming now— and we’re not talking city or state, we’re talking global—We’re on the verge of an eminent water crisis.

All the four representatives of these four different venues said the same thing.

The guy chairing in front of all of these thousands of people and all their lawyers and translators, asked, “Given this information, are there any questions from the audience?” Silence. He repeated the question. Silence. Well, could we have a discussion among the presenters about what the possibilities of action might be based on these conclusions? You’ve all reached the same conclusion, could there be a discussion? They had nothing further to add.

Patricia: It’s so big. We can’t get our minds around it.

Charlie: This was in 2005. It’s eight years after this UN meeting. Four months ago was our Delta meeting. We meet quarterly at the state level, trying to address the people at the local level. Forget Peru, India and China, who are out of water. The Yellow River, which is the main supply of water for China, does not reach the ocean, which means the river is dying. If you cut off blood from your foot, how long does it take for your foot to fall off? How long is it going to take if you leave the foot attached before the whole distal foot goes systemic and become infected?

To be continued on March 6: Conclusions and what this means.

A current project at Suscol Intertribal Council, a 501(c)3 organization, focuses on building “Suskol House”, a spiritual center for Native American peoples in Pope Valley. The land is bought and the construction begins in April, 2014.  If you appreciate the work of Charlie Toledo in developing a healthy relationship to our waterways informed by native wisdom and current science, please consider making a tax deductible donation to the building of this unique structure, a model for use of materials and sustainability. For more info and to make your donation, watch this video.